Over the years, I’ve regularly written that the assumption “family caregivers don’t self-identify” drives me nuts. (You can read my previous posts in our Commentary section.)
Over the past few weeks, I’ve experienced more frustration because that belief is so widely shared and embraced. A new employee benefit company reached out to me to lead a webinar for its benefit members, individuals who work and care for a family member. I suggested a few ideas for the webinar but they really got hung up on “what it means to be a caregiver.” I’m not sure how many employees will be lured into a webinar that’s entitled, “What it means to be a caregiver,” but, hey, what do I know? I’ve only been supporting those who care for a family member since 1990.
The irony, of course, is that they’re using a term “caregiver” that they’ve decided we don’t call ourselves in the title of the webinar they expect us to attend. Boggles my mind how much sense this doesn’t make.
In essence, this benefit company, which specifically targets employees who care for a family member, decided that we don’t know what it means when we care for a family member. Like, literally, you have no idea that every day you help and support a family member. The assumption they’ve made is that we don’t call ourselves a family caregiver which means we must have no idea what a family caregiver does.
It does not matter what we call ourselves.
What we do every matters which is why we know what we do every day.
I pushed and they pulled about the webinar content. They wanted me to include statistics about “caregivers”. Sure, it’s helpful to understand that more 60 million individuals in the U.S. provide care but beyond that how does data help us cope? How does knowing the average age of a family member help me manage my worries? I also belief that attaching too much data to the “typical family caregiver” also does harm. Anyone at any age can begin to care for family member. If we keep that in mind, we keep an open mind as to who we’re helping. If we believe it’s just a 49-year-old woman then we miss out supporting so many younger adults and men.
So, I offer another plea: We call ourselves daughters, sons, siblings, spouses, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. We care for a family member. We worry, we support, we help, we face losses, we feel our heart break, we manage the intensity of an experience that can last for decades. Just help and support us. Don’t demean us.
Really, we get what we do. We’re living it. Help us live better during it. Really and truly, help us.