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What Goes Around, Comes Around in Caring
A mother arrives home from the hospital, newborn baby boy in her arms. Family and friends arrive with casseroles and plates of sandwiches. A neighbour invites the older children outside for a ball game. The new father smiles and whispers to his wife, “I will look after everything… you go and lie down with the baby. I’ll bring you some tea.”
Everyone understands that the delicate process of building the bond between mother and baby is sacred, especially in the first days and weeks of a new life. Everyone understands that the mother’s most essential and immediate task is to bond with and care for her baby without distraction.
Years later, the same mother stumbles and falls. She has broken her hip. Her husband has passed away and all the children, except one, have moved to find work in cities far away. Her youngest son, the baby she nursed so long ago, lives nearby. He is his mother’s caregiver.
Older brothers and sisters telephone and write, asking for daily updates. They use technology to support their brother in his caregiving. Neighbours, friends and work colleagues drop by with groceries and home cooked meals. They do this so that a son can give care to his mother without distraction.
‘I care for you because you cared for me’ represents the ethic of reciprocity that children of the frail elderly cite as an important motivation for caregiving. When caregivers decide to devote time, energy and kindness to an elderly parent, they have made a moral decision about what is right under the circumstances. And that moral decision is one that is rooted in love as well as duty. Parents of children with disabilities or spouses of people with chronic illness make this decision, too. They make it every day, often over a period of many years.
Eva Kittay, a philosopher and mother of a young woman with severe disabilities, also cared for her mother until she died. Eva coined the term 'doulia' to describe the concept of caring for the caregiver so that she could care for a loved one without distraction. She says, "There is a notion I call ‘doulia’ which I define as the public responsibility to provide support for the caregiver so that the caregiver can give care without depleting herself and her resources."
There is a saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Fill yourself up first so you can then overflow.” When we see someone giving care, we pour in her cup. And the pouring and overflowing repeats itself in every family, in every culture. Sometimes, it happens naturally and sometimes this process requires intention.
There is no better time than the Holiday Season to reflect on love, family, intention and the good in supporting caregivers.