Sunday, April 25, 2010

Being a Caretaker

In our last class, we talked about dependents and the care they require. When we began talking about caring for the elderly in our family (or unrelated elderly dependents), the conversation became personal for me. Four years ago, my aunt passed away from a terminal lung disease. When I was a senior in high school, my afterschool role was that of a caretaker for her and her husband. Although her husband could still provide some care for her, she needed constant help with every task, from making and eating meals to changing her clothes to brushing her teeth. While it was sad to see my aunt deteriorate, I also learned so much from her during the time we spent together. I think that it is vital that we understand the importance of what we can learn from the older generations of our family about our own heritage and how we became who we are today. If someone else assumes this role as caretaker, we miss out on not only knowing a little more about ourselves, but also a certain sense of pride that comes with caring for someone in need. I do think that in America today, this role of caretaker is devalued because of the way our society has been set up. Unpaid work does not merit the same kind of value as paid work, and this is a main reason that jobs and duties related to the domestic and private sphere are not recognized as worthwhile or important. This is a cultural phenomenon, and not one that is inherent to the human race, since we can see other cultures that set up their systems of care much differently than ours.


  1. This is a very good point. My great grandmother passed away last year from old age and late stage dementia. Prior to her death my grandmother was her primary caretaker. I think that assuming such a responsibility is a very noble act that doesn't get as much recognition as it should. Caretakers put aside portions of their lives for the sake of caring for someone else and this is a job that few people assume, especially if they're one of a group of able bodied people that could take or share the same responsibility.

  2. Viece,

    Our discussion last class was also very personal for me, as my grandfather died about a week and a half ago. He had become unable to care for himself and so he moved from California to New Jersey to live with my family. Although he greatly appreciated our support and was clearly happy to see us so much, my grandfather was very resistant to admitting that he could no longer care for himself. It took us years to convince him to leave behind his home and his friends to come stay with us, but I find this quite understandable considering the freedom he felt that he was giving up.

    Furthermore, despite my mom's deep love for her father, the situation became very stressful for her, as her siblings were either unable or unwilling to lend her any support. My mom found herself experiencing "care burnout," an idea of Noddings which we referenced in class.

    Considering this, the example of my grandfather highlights two points. First, that the cared for truly does require a great amount of love and support, because his or her situation results in a significant loss of freedom. Second, that care burnout can happen to even the most devoted of caregivers. These examples lend strong support to Kittay's argument that caregiving needs to be supported by society at large.

  3. Nice post! Coming from a different cultural background, it was always surprising for me to hear my some of my friends in high school say that they didn't know if they would take care of their parents when they grew old or whether they would place their parents in nursing home. Cuturally in India, you are expected to take care of your parents when they are older or when they need you. Nursing homes are not an option there so the responsibility lies with the children.
    My parents and I moved back to India for two years to be closer to family so that my grandparents could stay with us whenever they wanted to. It is a valued part of Indian culture to look after not just your parents but all the elders in the family. It should be more valued in America because many families do take care of their elders and should be appreciated for their efforts.

  4. Menali, it is great to hear about how different country's value the idea of care within the household. I believe that the United States needs to recognize the importance of this form of nurturing not only for the elderly, but for the family dynamic. If we were expected to take care of our family, so many people would not be left alone in a crisis of getting older or struggling to stay alive due to a car accident. Often times, I feel that the U.S. undervalues the importance of family and focuses more on the "I" of the situation. This could be changed if we were to mimic other countries like India, who value that bond.

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  6. I realize that my sentiments may seem a bit heartless in the context of the painful experiences mentioned on this post and its comments; I apologize if I offend anyone in light of these relationships.

    I appreciate the conversation sparked by this post, and, while recognizing the significance of doing this dependency work and valuing the efforts of others in this respect, I can't help but dwell on Manali's points about Indian culture. The transmission of such filial devotion may, on the whole, translate into more caring responsibility for one's elders. However (and I'm betraying my lack of knowledge about contemporary Indian culture) I do not know how fully this ethic does or should take root.

    The real concern for me would be whether simple acceptance of the norm would relinquish some folks from treating their families justly, before becoming dependents. A patriarch-tyrant would seem to deserve the care of his family. Though the current state of American society places the burden of dependency work on women, effectively limiting their freedom due to lack of support, I could understand the success of the Indian system, to a certain extent, through a point offered by Okin. She notes, before describing the many problems with marriage in American society, "In the United States the members of a family, so long as they live together, usually share the same standard of living," (600). But, as she later notes, echoing the frustrations of authors such as Kittay, even within such social units, dependency work falls primarily on women. So, as a high quality of life for dependents can be ensured within a stable family, a stable family is to some degree required. I do not know how this works for a modern Indian family, in terms of a woman's autonomy, the burden of dependency work, or power distribution within the family. In America, all of these issues arise in painful ubiquity, often in favor of a callous male.

    Applying the suggestion that Americans should mimic the Indian system, an example may clarify my seemingly suspicious stance. Imagine an unyieldingly spiteful man within your family. Who should be responsible for taking care of him, if he survives into old age? This issue relates to a broader difficulty, something that I've wondered about Noddings' ethic of care, whether crippling care burnout is inevitable when doing dependency work for some people. If someone invested in an oppressive sexism hurts, to a greater or lesser degree, everyone in his family in a significant way, where should the responsibility lie in caring for him in his eventual dependency? Does it seem correct to necessarily place the burden upon his children? Or should we simply place a greater value on (and possibly contribute to) the dependency work done by others within our society?

  7. I'm going to follow in Kevin's blog and question a few of the points brought up by the post and subsequent comments.

    We discussed in class the reality that our medical care has not evolved in course with the increase in life expectancy. If this is the case it is important to leave out personal experiences and look at the facts. People will become ill from old age but live longer. If this trend continues the care required may consume the caretakers entire childhood/teens/adulthood... until they have spent their entire life taking care of someone else.

    I agree with the traditional aspects Manali presents. It is also important to note that these circumstances were not the same for those in need of care now as they were when their generation may have been the caregiver.

  8. I found this interesting blurb about care giving. Its somewhat vague but i'll include the facebook link for the magazine that it comes from or you can go to their website.

    PainPathways Magazine Ten Tips for Family Caregivers from our partners at National Family Caregivers Association:

    1. Caregiving is a job, and respite is your earned right. Reward yourself with respite breaks often.
    2. Watch out for signs of depression, and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it.
    3. When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do.
    4. Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition and how to communicate effectively with doctors.
    5. There’s a difference between caring and doing. Be open to technologies and ideas that promote your loved one’s independence.
    6. Trust your instincts. Most of the time, they’ll lead you in the right direction.
    7. Caregivers often do a lot of lifting, pushing and pulling. Be good to your back.
    8. Grieve for your losses, and then allow yourself to dream new dreams.
    9. Seek support from other caregivers. There is great strength in knowing you are not alone.
    10. Stand up for your rights as a caregiver.

    National Family Caregivers Association


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