Sunday 23 May 2021


There might be a good reason that nurses ask patients, "How are WE doing today?" The caregiving relationship is one that consists of two people who are 'in it' together. So why do we find it so difficult to understand that both of these people need care, not just one? 

                                                   Photo by Shahzin Shajid on Unsplash

Eva Kittay, an author, philosopher and mother of an adult daughter with severe disabilities, describes the perfect caregiver (when we are at our best with our own loved one) as a ‘transparent self’. In Eva’s words:

In the transparent self, the perception of and response to another’s needs are neither blocked by nor refracted through our own needs and desires. A transparent self attempts to intuit and respond to the other’s own sense or understanding of their own good, and does so for the other’s own sake. (2007, 53)

In other words, the ‘transparent self’ caregiver is not driven by ego or self-interest. She or he is driven by love and necessity. But Kittay also warns us against becoming immersed in another's needs:

An ethics of care is fundamentally other-directed, but it is an ethic that understands that our own well-being is never entirely independent of the well-being of the other. 

So how can we reconcile 'good care' for another with 'good care' for ourselves? Is the answer in the pages of women's magazines that scold us for not performing enough 'self-care'? No. I think the fundamental flaw with this individualistic idea of self-care is that it denies the care relationship. We shouldn't have to (and very often we CAN'T) remove ourselves from our loved one in order to perform some act of self-care or even self-preservation. No, we have to care for ourselves as we care for another. As we soothe loved ones, we must focus on soothing ourselves. We must pour two cups of tea, not say, "I'll have mine later." 

Of course there will be times that pain, anxiety or other forms of distress will make this dual approach to caring impossible - those times will be for caring that is 'asymmetrical' or one-way. But one-way caring can become a habit and that can cause damage to all concerned. Limping or favouring one leg can cause sore hips and arthritic knees in the 'good' leg. The same is true of asymmetrical caring. Folding self-care into caring is a shift that once practiced, feels like 'good caring'. Part of that equation is a realization that we are (usually) receiving care from our loved one, even if they are non-speaking. A calm presence or a squeeze of the hand are forms of solace to which we can assign great, personal meaning. 

Kittay also talks about how the 'completion of care' necessitates that care must be received (so good intentions are not good enough). How is care completed for your loved one? The more complicated question and urgent question is, "how is care completed for you?"

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