What If We Assume Everyone Is?


What If We Assume Everyone Is?

I attended a caregiving summit on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., which gathered organizations that provide services or products to those who care for a family member (family caregivers).

Throughout the day, presenters and panelists shared that family caregivers "don't self-identify" which means they may not use products and services that can help. Just writing that sentence makes me shake my head and roll my eyes. I've long written about why this perspective makes me crazy; read

What if we didn't wait for individuals to say, "Hey, I'm a family caregiver!" and just assumed everyone is until they tell us they aren't?

If we assume everyone is caring for a family member or friend, then:

  • Caregiving becomes a natural part of every conversation which means we regularly share information about services and programs that help.

  • Caregiving becomes so much a part of our national conversation that our federal, state and local governments cannot ignore the need and must implement programs which truly serves family caregivers. They must otherwise we vote them out.

  • Caregiving becomes such a concern for the health care system that we receive our own support and care during our caree's doctor's appointments, hospitalizations and ER visits. (Read At Midnight, Your Hand Held.)

  • Caregiving and its impact, like the stress family caregivers experience, becomes the epidemic that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pledges to end. (Read my Imagine series.)

  • Caregiving becomes such a normal life experience that individuals interviewing for jobs asked prospective employers, "What are your caregiving benefits?"

  • Caregiving becomes so commonplace that employers add caregiving benefits (crisis support, on-site support groups, back-up care and flexible work and leave arrangements) because individuals only work for companies that offer caregiving benefits.

  • Caregiving becomes an accepted experience in the workplace which means that co-workers freely share about their caregiving responsibilities which means the work gets done more effectively becomes trust becomes the powerful part of the team.

  • Caregiving becomes such a norm that local communities offer adult day programs through their park districts just like they offer programs for children.

  • Caregiving becomes such a normal topic in neighborhoods that "care-sitting" becomes just like "babysitting."

  • Caregiving becomes so much a top-of-mind concern that houses of worship collaborate in communities to support family caregivers.

Caregiving experiences are everywhere. On Sunday night in an Uber ride to my hotel, I struck up a conversation with my fellow Uber rider who arrived from North Carolina and a weekend with her mom, for whom she cares from a distance. Yesterday, I delivered a presentation about stress management to a group of employees at a marketing firm. My contact at the firm, a millennial HR manager, shared that worrying about the health of two family members contributes to her stress. She described herself as being "sandwiched" while acknowledging she doesn't have children. Two weeks ago, I attended a business networking luncheon sponsored by my Chamber of Commerce. The topic at my table? Caregiving.

I live in a world that assumes I am married and have children. I am single without children. I regularly correct people on their assumptions without giving it a second thought. Why not assume we're all taking care of someone? Then, we don't have to talk about whether or not someone self identifies. We're already doing it. Why not just assume everyone cares?

P.S. If we assume everyone cares, then perhaps those family members who disappear will get so much grief about not helping ("You don't help your sister care for your parents?????") that they actually begin to help. Maybe.

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I read this and thought to myself, \"oh my goodness! There used to be a time when people lived in with family and everyone was a caregiver. It was not even given a name or a special position because it was a way of life. Modern life created an environment that makes it possible for us to go our separate ways and forget about those in our world who cannot do for themselves. Caregiving for a family member or friend has become a unique thing in most people's minds even though it is not unique at all. What is unique is that an entire culture lost sight of the commitment and faithfulness of family and community life. I can point to broken homes as one cause of this difference, the ability to move and change jobs with ease, smaller families with each family member living in their own world...all of these things and more have brought us to the point where we are stunned to find out that someone is being self-sacrificial. What if we did see everyone as a caregiver? Interesting premise and worthy of more thought on my part. The truth is we are all caregivers of each other though we may not understand that or act like it. Provocative post, Denise. I am going to ask some of my friends how they see this perspective. Thank you!

Rachel Hiles

Every. Single. One. Of. The. Bullets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YES YES YES! So many people out here are family caregivers and have no idea and nobody ever speaks up and says anything to them. Everyone always focuses on the caree, but never thinks about what the caregiver might also need (which ultimately benefits the caree, duh).

Jackie Ann

This is an excellent post Denise. I was at a conference a few weeks ago, it wasn't caregiver related, it was for improving leadership skills. During the conference I talked about what all of us Caregiving Consultants are doing. Literally 100% of those that I spoke with (out of about 99 people) were caregiving - or previously caregiving. The thing was, NONE of them identified as a family caregiver. NONE of them knew there were resources. It was so sad. I gave them all information to help them on their journey - but 99/99 were caregivers - 100%. And they didn't identify that way. How do you get help if you are searching all the wrong things? Thanks for sharing. Thanks for caring!