Sunday, 19 August 2012

Is Caregiving Women's Work?

Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege of speaking with a group of caregiver activists in a conference call hosted by WEGO Health, a terrific online information tool open to anyone wishing to advocate for health related causes.

On our call was Wendy Kruse, founder of the Military Special Needs Network (USA), Laurie Wallin, a parenting life coach with a specialization in the resilience of special needs families and Adrienne Gruberg, founder of the Caregiver's Survival Network.  

As caregivers, mothers, wives and daughters, we compared experiences and reflections on advocating online as well as giving care to our loved ones at home.  We began to chat about the gender balance of caregivers.  "Is caregiving the exclusive domain (like it or not) of women?" we asked.  The older of us in the group responded a unanimous "yes" to that question and a younger special needs Mum on the line reported that younger Dads are taking up the caring gauntlet as much as they can.  We all agreed though, that if someone has to give up employment in the case of a child with disability, it is still most likely to be the mother.  Raising a child with disability or caring for an elderly relative with high needs is a full-time job.  

Last year, I blogged about a conference I attended at Cambridge University in England on the subject of women and leadership.  The title of my blog was "Balancing the Boardroom with the Babies".  On the panel that day were high profile, highly successful businesswomen.  The CV's of participants were no less impressive.  Everyone wanted to talk about the impossible task of balancing their care responsibilities at home with those at the office.  Most reported feeling guilty much of the time - at the office, they worried about home...and vice versa.  The guilt-free group members were most interesting.  One CEO said blithely, "I'm no good at domestic affairs, so I just outsource my children, that way they are looked after by people who are much better at it than me.  I'm good at business."  Another mother said, "We women say we want it all.  But when we say that, we really mean that we refuse to relinquish any of the sacred territory of motherhood and that special bond.  If we really want it all, we need to be OK with giving that up in large part to our partners."  I found these different styles of exercising care responsibilities to be fascinating.  

Do you believe that caregiving is women's work?  Should it be?  If most caregivers are women and we believe that is unfair, what is our responsibility in changing that social dynamic?  How can we share care without giving up the intimacy we build with our vulnerable charges?    
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