Fem2.0 Blog Carnival: For Women, the Other Side of Work Is NOT Play… It’s Caregiving: Caregiving is a job for which women usually don’t get or expect monetary compensation. It is a critical aspect of work/life and healthcare issues. How can caregiving be made easier to make our lives easier? What is caregiving in all its shapes and forms? What role does it play in women’s lives? What can be done, or what changes need to happen, to facilitate caregiving?
A dialogue in response to this-
TAMARA: One of the things that immediately came to my mind when I saw this was that one of the biggest dangers I see for myself and my friends when it comes to caregiving is that we neglect to give care to ourselves. We spend our personal–and often our professional–lives caring for others but when it comes to our own needs, those don’t even make the list! We’re lunch-skippers, lack-of-sleepers, and it seems we’re almost always in need of a little self-care.
SAMANTHA: We don’t want to seem selfish. What’s worse than a selfish woman, right? Failure to nurture is a failure at the very center of constructed womanhood; after all, in the cultural lore, childless women need to be the aunt who babysits, or the teacher who surrogate-parents a generation, or at the very least a crazy cat lady who caregives to animals. Taking care of yourself first goes against an extremely powerful cultural impulse, and honestly most of the time it’s just too hard to do that. So who needs sleep, of course instead I’ll volunteer to help out with this other thing.
TAMARA: I’ll admit it, occasionally I’m resentful. I care for others and yet it seems very rarely does anyone care for me or even notice I’m in need of care. I feel guilty about this, of course, because Good Girls don’t ask for anything in return. Maybe that’s my problem, maybe I should ask.
SAMANTHA: Asking is being demanding, though, and that’s very nearly as bad as being selfish. And of course there’s the element of thinking that you shouldn’t have to ask, that people should notice; but of course any good servant (caregiver) is invisible. Wow, I’m exceptionally cynical today.
TAMARA: We don’t expect others to care for us but it would be nice. I rarely ask for it, and when I do, it’s very awkward. Many of my woman friends are like that. Control issues, an inability to step out of our roles as caregivers and into role of cared-for, I don’t know.
SAMANTHA: Control issues, absolutely. And I suspect that we get a little charge of superiority, as well; after all, we’re filling that damn cultural role, and not even getting anything in return! Martyr complex. And the very best women are martyrs, aren’t they? Old-school American Puritanism: your reward is in heaven.
TAMARA: Well, to borrow your cynicism, it isn’t as if we’re going to get rewarded here. Ouch. I don’t do it for a reward but I definitely get a sense of validation when my caregiving is recognized as something valuable. It’s as if it and I are one and the same, as if it’s such an integral part of me that I literally cannot feel right if it is not acknowledged and valued. (NB: There’s a wonderful book of essays called “Women’s Growth in Connection: Writings from the Stone Center” that discusses this and other aspects of women’s development.)
SAMANTHA: Oh, absolutely. Being the one who listens, the friend who always has a shoulder to cry on, that becomes such an important part of my identity. And of course then trying to talk about my stuff, to let someone else fill that role, feels like giving up part of my identity. It’s a scary thing. And around and around we go in a self-reinforcing cycle.
TAMARA: It’s become important in navigating my friendships that a concept of “give and take” is directly stated. Today it’s your turn to need, tomorrow it may be mine… For some reason that makes it easier for both the caregiver and the cared-for.
SAMANTHA: That might be the best way, explicit communication of needs. Because otherwise, I definitely have a tendency to burn myself out. I just run out of sympathy to give. I picked up this term somewhere on the Internet, though I can’t remember where- “compassion fatigue.” You still care, you want to feel bad for your people who are hurting, you want to support them and be there for them, but you just have nothing left. And that makes you a bad person, of course, because why can’t you suck it up and be there for your friends? It’s a vicious, self-punishing thing.
TAMARA: Because of course then you feel worse, they feel worse, and it keeps going until there’s this group of women sitting around in their misery, each one resentful that no one has noticed and guilty she hasn’t done more for her own friends. Why can’t we just be nice to ourselves? We need to stop playing into these societal roles. Maybe we can’t escape them on a grand scale but we can in our own most intimate circles.
SAMANTHA: Sometimes it’s harder to be honest with your nearest and dearest about this than strangers, though. You can cut off a stranger and walk away with relatively little remorse, but not being there for your BFF? What kind of person are you? Still, sucking it up and having the conversation is probably essential to staying sane.
TAMARA: One of my biggest worries heading into a caregiving profession is burnout. But I’ve realized I’m not so much worried about the effects of this burnout on myself but on those I should be helping. Should be, listen to that. Because I want to be helping, I feel as if I can’t stand by and not help, but it’s still somehow programmed into me that helping–caring–is what I should do.
SAMANTHA: It all comes down to drawing boundaries, I think; making sure to fence off a piece of ourselves for ourselves. Easier said than done, but it’s a goal to keep in sight.