The hidden stress on female caregivers.

So many people are embarrassed to admit that being a caregiver is not part of who they are. That makes the whole experience that much harder. They labor along under the expectations of society, meanwhile taking care of someone who is very ill.

Women are expected to selflessly drop everything to take care of a sick relative, regardless of ability, interest, or skill. Simply being female doesn’t mean that you are also a cook, a nurse, a counselor. These are skills that must be learned. You don’t suddenly know how to care for someone who is terminally ill. Nor do you suddenly have the desire to, just because it is expected of you.

What about your income in the meantime? You don’t still get to take in a paycheck when you quit your job to care for a relative. There is the Family Leave Act – but that only ensures that your job can’t fire you for going on leave. They have to give you a job back. It may not be the job that you had, however. It also does not mean that you will get paid in the meantime. It is leave without pay.

The caregiver’s closeness to their relative is irrelevant. The mother is abusive? Father raped her? Brother stole, lied to her? Mother and father in law are dismissive and treat her like she is stupid? Doesn’t matter – your duty is to tend them, because you are a woman.

This is unreasonable.

There is a reason that my “Death Guilt” post always gets a lot of hits. People don’t talk about this stuff. We should.

When a man is well enough to go home from the hospital but not well enough to take care of himself, he’s sent home if he has a wife there. When the same thing happens with a woman, she’s sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It is assumed that the wife will know how – and be able to (mentally and emotionally) take care of him. It is assumed that a man will not. This is insulting to both sexes.

I’ve heard from people who work in nursing homes that they judge a family that doesn’t visit. They think they are selfish. They don’t know the history of the relationship. They have no way of knowing how abusive (mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically) the person was to their family members. The effects of this abuse remain even when (if) the abuse stops. They may never go away.

Sometimes the abuse stops because the person is no longer able to be abusive – not because they don’t want to. It is far harder to hit someone when you have Parkinson’s disease. It is far harder to insult your children when you have dementia and can’t even remember that they ARE your children.

Being a caregiver should be a gift, not a demand. It should be because you want to, not because it is expected.

Just because your parents gave you life does not mean that you have to take them into your home and care for them when they get old. They chose to have you. You did not choose to have them. This is an unequal relationship.

When you marry, you marry that person – not their family. You make a legal statement that you will stay with them regardless of their health. You do not make the same promises to their parents. There is nothing about the marriage vows that obligates you to sacrifice yourself to take care of them. This is an unspoken assumption that is damaging and must be called out.

Contract

While writing a story yesterday, I realized that I am / was expecting something of my brother that he did not agree to. I expected the “Hallmark” family and instead I got an abuser as my role model. I now suspect that he did not want to be anybody’s brother. Perhaps he wanted to be an only child. Perhaps he didn’t want to share his time or toys, didn’t want to share our parents attention and energy.

Basically, I’m accusing him of violating the contract he didn’t sign. He didn’t agree to having a sister, so he never said he would act like a brother.

This is the very same thing I’m saying that my sister-in-law is doing to me. She is mad that I wouldn’t help out with our in-laws estate, when I never said I would. In fact, I told my husband (the only person I need to tell) that I wouldn’t, because it was his task to do with his brother. I had done the same task, alone, at 25. Perhaps she has a script that says “daughters-in-law should take care of all family matters”, like I have a script that says “brothers should not abuse their sisters”.

I’m coming to understand that it is best to start with a clean slate, to not be prejudiced for or against situations / people / experiences.

Shame

I’ve heard a lot recently about how teachers should be aware of how their behavior might cause their students to feel shame. They are supposed to do away with all measures of success because it will make the lower performing students feel shame. Sure, each child has a different learning style. Sure, each child learns at a different pace. So some kids will not be on the same level as others. This is normal.

But something seems wrong about this.

If every kid makes an “A” for effort, then an “A” doesn’t mean anything. Why work hard? Why study? Your grade will be the same as everyone else’s. There is no motivation to improve. There is no feedback as to how you are doing.

The world doesn’t work like this. When they graduate they won’t be in a work environment that congratulates them for just showing up. When they enter the work world they will wonder why people don’t appreciate it when they spend an hour on Facebook and Twitter rather than working. Why try? Why work? You’ll get the same grade, right? They will be in for a rude awakening.

It isn’t healthy to treat “average” as “amazing”. Does it cause “shame” to encourage a child to try his best?

It would be better to teach kids how to have self respect. They need to learn how to love themselves as they are. They need to be OK with being different – because we all are different. They need to learn self esteem.

Being different isn’t wrong.

Having the wrong answer doesn’t make them a bad person.

Learning this will save them a lot of trouble throughout life.

How much of this is the responsibility of the teacher, and how much of this is the responsibility of the parents? How come teachers are being expected to do much more than teach?

Sure, a teacher needs to be mindful of what she says. We all do. That is just part of being a good person. But the other part of the equation is that the parents have to do what they can to teach their children to not lose it every time they get a less than perfect grade.

It doesn’t mean the kid is bad. It just means he has to work harder, or find a different way to learn the material. That is a good lesson for life in general.

Black and white – self respect and expecting the good

I saw a story about twin girls who were born – one was black and one was white. Both parents were half black and half white – and the genes had shuffled around and produced an all-white and an all-black child. I saw another story about a woman who gave birth to a white child, and she and her partner were both black. Both mother and child were genetically tested and it was proven that she had not cheated – the child was hers.

We can go into the concept of even using the term “black” versus “African-American” if we want, but the parents in this case weren’t in America, so they aren’t “African-American” themselves. Plus, my “African-American” friends frequently use the term “black” to describe themselves. Morgan Freeman says we shouldn’t use any term – just talk about people as people. But that isn’t going to work either.

Because we do have different experiences. We see the world differently. The world sees us differently. Every person is viewed, is judged, based on their appearance. Some of it we have a choice about – do we present ourselves as rich, as concerned about our image, as lazy, as bohemian, as eccentric…you get the point. Actors know about this. If you want people to see you a certain way, you can change how you are seen.

But you can’t change your race. That is a lot of surface area to cover. You can’t just put on a different hat and have people think you are a different person. It isn’t that simple.

I remember a study where people were applied with stage makeup. They had fake scars put on themselves. They noticed that people treated them differently. A little later in the study, the participants went through the makeup process, but didn’t get the scars put on. They were not allowed to look in a mirror either time – with, or without the fake scar. Even without the scar, they reported that people treated them differently. They still thought they had the scar, and they thought that other people were reacting to them as if they had the scar.

Really what they were reacting to was the participant’s fear and hesitation about being judged for having a scar – which wasn’t there.

So there is something internal about this.

I remember when I lived in Chattanooga I was working at a record store. A black lady was standing in front of me getting help. A white lady came in and, not noticing that I was helping another person, asked for help. She was standing about 10 feet away. I indicated that I was helping another person, and I’ll help her in a little bit. She noticed the other lady, apologized, and continued to look around the store, patiently waiting for me. Two days later, the reverse situation happened. I was helping a white lady, and a black lady came in and asked for help. I said the exact same thing to her – that I was helping this lady in front of me and I’ll help her as soon as possible. She stormed out.

For me to treat people differently because of their race is racist.
For them to assume that I’m treating them differently because of my race is racist.

I’ve heard and read plenty of discussion saying that black people can’t be racist. There is something about their definition of racist that isn’t in the dictionary. They use issues of power – of higher versus lower. They say that the racist is someone who has power in the situation. Their argument is that since a black person does not have power, she can’t be racist.

The definition of racist has nothing to do with this. It is to treat someone differently because of their race. Power has nothing at all to do with it. We’ve added that extra flavor to it, but when we do we miss the point.

To deny that there is a problem because you don’t like how it is being defined is a problem.

There was another situation in Chattanooga that I’ll never forget. I was about twenty years old. I was in a store in a mall and I saw a lady holding a child. They were both black. I had no way of knowing the gender of the child (babies are rather ambiguous – this is why some people get little girl’s ears pierced) and no way of knowing if this was the child’s mom or grandmother or aunt. I didn’t want to say “How is your little girl?” and get an earful. So I said “How is this one?” Oh – that was the wrong thing to say. “How dare you say ‘this one’! ‘This one’ is a child!” It went on and on. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to say. The more I think she just was waiting to be offended.

These situations in Chattanooga made me not want to talk to a black person ever again.

Then I moved to the DC area. I was overwhelmed with the difference. There was no chip on the shoulder. There was no sense of “you owe me”. Each person, regardless of race, talked to me the same. There was no sense of ‘higher’ or ‘lesser’ – they weren’t acting from a sense of having a scar that they thought I was reacting to. There was no “you owe me” mentality. It was refreshing. I see this kind of healthy attitude in Nashville too, and I’m encouraged, but there is still work to be done.

How much of people’s reactions to you come from your sense that they are going to react to you? I’m remembering The Dog Whisperer here – he would walk into a room with a dog that was uncontrollable. He would walk in calm and assured, and the dog would react totally differently. He expected calmness, and the dog became calm. How many of us forget that we are animal at the core? We are human, but we respond on an instinctual level to energy. If we expect bad, we are going to find it. If we expect good, we are going to find it.

If we lead the way expecting people to treat us badly, then we will find that is true. People give us what we expect. So it is time to expect good. Lead the way.

It is time to wipe the chalkboard clean and start over. I am tired of the old rules of behavior being applied to me. I didn’t own anybody’s family. I wasn’t raised in luxury. I am not to blame for all that has happened in the past. I will not take the blame for something I have no control over.

I’m trying to do what I can to make things better, but there has to be some meeting in the middle. I try to treat everyone the same. Respect. Common courtesy. Civility. But I expect the same in return. This is regardless of race.

It is my responsibility to help break down these walls, but it is also the responsibility of black people to stop building them up.