Celebrating the Caregiver Identity: An Interview with Jenn Chan

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Celebrating the Caregiver Identity: An Interview with Jenn Chan

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As part of our caregiver spotlight series, Caregiving.com spoke with caregiving and senior care expert, Jenn Chan about caregiving messages. She also shares why she created the Senior Shower Project and monthly caregiver dance parties.

What inspired you to create the Senior Shower Project and caregiver dance parties?

I saw a need to celebrate, develop, and create a rite-of-passage party for caregivers (check out Senior Shower Project). At a friend’s baby shower, there was so much positive support for family and community in parenthood. Everybody was happy to give advice, gifts, and useful tools for the new parent. 

Birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, and other rites of passages are openly commemorated. Caregivers (for seniors) could benefit from a similar type of party. People don’t want to talk about aging and the end of life, but these life events—and the caregiving that comes with them—are also rites of passage that deserve celebration and reverence. They are opportunities for people to share advice and realize that they're not alone.

As a baby shower is to parenthood, a senior shower is for caregiver-hood. People can talk about caregiver-hood when they're not in crisis mode and give gifts that they've used during their caregiving, like “check out this book or podcast.” It's about giving to other people, that way the new caregiver doesn’t have to start from scratch. They're set-up for success from the beginning. 

I am also about big-picture thinking: creating a new family tradition. An intergenerational, family tradition. It’s about getting people to see what’s down the pipeline and recognize care and caregiving as a natural part of the process of aging. People should step up, and that role/identity has a name: caregiver. Not all caregivers call themselves caregivers. They are wives, granddaughters, etc. We are all about celebrating the identity and acknowledging the role existing; it’s a part of the circle of life and new family traditions. 

Was there a single, defining moment that made you think to yourself that something like this needed to be created? 

The caregiver dance party was made virtual during COVID-19. And in California, in June, everything was opening up again. Knowing caregivers wouldn’t have the same freedom as everyone else and would worry about putting their care recipient at risk, I thought it would be great to bring the party to them. Caregiving isn’t typically associated with partying, but it should be. With different themes monthly, these virtual dance parties allow caregivers to connect with one another and have fun. There's a meeting area before and after the event where people can introduce themselves. We also use this time to address caregiver isolation and loneliness. It’s also not adding more work or another workshop/training to their already packed scheduled. It’s self-care; they can just dance, listen to music, and step away from their caregiving for a few minutes. And even when they can't step away, they can have the music on in the background and find comfort in knowing that there are other caregivers doing the same thing.

How do you believe caregivers are perceived by society?

There are several ways to answer this question, there are family caregivers and professional caregivers. They’re different categories. You have those that are a part of the family, usually unpaid. Professional caregivers working for agencies get paid. 

With family caregivers, they’re not getting paid. Even if they were, it’s not enough for their work. They probably didn’t even know that this could be a profession. Going back to identity, society doesn’t know the terminology around being a caregiver, until they become one themselves. It’s not recognized in terms of terminology. Society needs to understand the term “caregiver,” and what responsibilities come with that. More people would then identify as a caregiver. 

COVID-19 has shined a light on caregiving. If you do ADLs (activities of daily living), make appointments, pick up meds, do groceries, or at least two of those things, then you technically are a caregiver. Explaining to people if you do these things for a dependent person that you are one, is a huge conversation for society. 

There’s an opportunity to put a new valuation on the career. Stigma (if people can be excited about parenting for a dependent person, they can get excited for an older person)

Do you believe the word “caregiver” is the correct word to describe the role?

Globally, the word used is "carer." Caregiver is more uniquely American. Is carer or caree a better word for describing the role? We already have a lot of caregivers. Until people understand it better and caregiving is embraced in a positive light, I say we stick with it for now. What about translating the word into other languages, how does that work? 

How are your efforts changing the way we think about and support caregivers?

I’m celebrating the caregiver identity, positioning it in a positive way, and celebrating the milestones of becoming a caregiver. Hopefully, these efforts inspire people to look forward to caregiving. 

What is your goal or intended end result in creating these initiatives in the senior care/caregiving communities?

To create a new family tradition that celebrates the entry into caregiver-hood. We need to take on caregiving in a proactive way—a way that helps us look forward to the role and prepare for it. A lot of times caregiving is reactive: something happens, and you then become a caregiver. If you know this beforehand, there can be foresight. The educational, intergenerational piece, knowing that we are all going to age, and caregiving will happen too. Have that celebration party and feel supported from the beginning. 

There’s no moment in time for people to share their senior caregiving experiences. That’s where the Senior Shower event comes in. Or at the nuclear or chosen family level, a milestone for that to come in. Caregiving doesn’t have to exclusively be for family, it can be for friends, knowing that there are people who will gather to support you in your transition. 

What programming are you offering during National Family Caregivers Month that our community should know about?

Join our November Caregiver Dance Party! The theme is celebration, and you can register here

Read more about Jenn Chan: 

Celebrating LGBTQ+ Caregivers

Senior Shower Project

Caregiver Dance Party

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