Thursday 19 January 2023

Quitting Time: A PM's Resignation Has Lessons for Caregivers

Yesterday I learned that Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand who led her country for the past five years, resigned unexpectedly. In an emotional statement, she said, “I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time."  Ardern said she had reflected over the summer break on whether she had the energy to continue in the role, and had concluded she did not. Then asked how she would like people to remember as Prime Minister, Ardern replied, "as someone who always who always tried to be kind." 

I have greatly admired Jacinda Ardern as someone who leads with integrity and great compassion. There was never any "spin" to her words - she always spoke naturally, with informed intelligence and with empathy. 

Ardern's resignation made me think about caregivers - the limits of our service and our self-awareness. What happens when we realize that we no longer have the necessary energy to continue? Can we resign? 

When my Mom moved into assisted living, I wondered if my sister and I had resigned. When our son moved into his medical group home, my husband and I questioned ourselves and we worried. Both of those moves turned out to be the best decisions for all concerned, but they did test our confidence as responsible caregivers at first. But then we realized that there is more than one way to give care and that a caregiver continues to lead (differently) with a loved one who lives outside the family home. Caregiving is a project and a caregiver can continue to be the project manager without being responsible for all the tasks that are necessary to a loved one receiving good care. 

One of the activities that keeps me busy these days (and I love it!) is co-designing and co-instructing a suite of courses titled Family Engagement in Research at McMaster University. Last semester we launched our first cohort of a new Leadership Academy in which childhood disability researchers partner with parent partners in research to gain leadership skills. Our instructor team identified 5 core competencies for leading this blended approach to research leadership in institutional or community settings. Those competencies are self-awareness, empathy and compassion, communication, advocacy and entrepreneurship. Certainly Jacinda Ardern embodies these competencies in my opinion, but so do a lot of fellow caregivers I know. 

For the good of our health and even survival, we need to recognize when it's time to step back from a lead role in care. And it's a matter of justice that we should be able to do so without putting our loved one at risk. We should communicate that need to step back with empathy and compassion, but we should also advocate strongly and strategically for our own wellbeing. And we should employ an entrepreneurial approach to identifying opportunities to follow through on our action plan. Sometimes stepping back and sharing the reality of an "empty tank" is good leadership.


Gretchen Staebler said...

I enjoyed "meeting" you so much on the FB Live presentation this afternoon. And then I read this post and nearly cried. Thank you! I provided live-in care for my mother for over four years, and then I just couldn't do it anymore. Over my younger sister's anguish (and, for a time at least, extreme upset with me), we moved her to assisted living. She died eighteen months later (at 102), almost five years ago. I wrote a memoir about our time together that was published three months ago. It does show the healing that came in our relationship, but I only just recently realized it all came after she moved, when I could continue to be her care manager along with my sister, but return to being her daughter. I don't think it would have happened had we continued to live together. I love your comparison to Jacinda Ardern's resignation. Perfect. Thank you.

The Caregivers' Living Room said...

Hi Gretchen, Oh I loved our FB Live presentation today with Amy and Zachary. I saw your comment that you had written a memoir and that it was a very helpful exercise for you in terms of healing yourself and your family. I'm so glad! What is the name of your book? I will look it up! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I thought Jacinda Ardern's speech was so honest and to me, it demonstrated her absence of ego and her style servant leadership - something we all can learn from I think.

Gretchen Staebler said...

I've just listened to her speech, Donna. So gracious, and kind; and yes, servant leadership. I have been enormously impressed with her these past years in times of crises, and now I'm even more impressed. My memoir is "Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver." Thank you for asking. I will be passing along your website on my caregiver ally website ( So glad I tuned in today!