Thursday 28 September 2017

Service With a Smile: The Emotional Work of Caregiving

Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and superiors. - Wikipedia

Thinking about it, I'd estimate that caregiving is roughly 75% emotional labor and only 25% physical work. How we smile, soothe, plan and manage the minutiae of living determines the wellbeing of the people we love. Managing our own emotions over years of giving care begs the question, can caregivers ever 'be real' and still give good care? 

Reflecting on this question today, I remembered that I actually gave an interview on this very subject a couple of years ago. Below is that conversation I had with Nicole Scheidl of Fit Minds, a corporate leader in the area of personalized cognitive coaching for older adults. 

Watching this interview again, I still agree that we caregivers live without irony. But does life without irony necessarily translate to 'being real'? I think this is where I would correct myself today. I don't think it does. I believe much of our emotional work requires us to hide our fatigue, our frustration and especially our grief. This work of presenting ourselves as our loved ones need to see us is important labor. The work of planning and executing tasks, then telling our loved ones that 'they did it' is labor, too. Emotional labor in caregiving is very hard work, there's no doubt about that. And in that sense, it is very real. 

What are your thoughts on this subject? Can caregivers perform the necessary emotional labor of caregiving and still 'be real'? 

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