Minding Our Elders®
By Carol Bradley Bursack
Typically, when most people think of a caregiver, they picture a woman. An elder’s care-giver? The daughter, of course. However, when I was looking for caregivers to interview for Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories, I recognized that there were also many caregiving men. My final ratio of male to female caregivers turned out to be one in four. It was not a scientific choice; rather an aesthetic one. It worked with the rhythm of the book’s design.
After I became more aware of men as caregivers and met more of them,as well, I decided some research was in order. Through that research, I found my one-in-four ratio was right on the national average at the time I was writing the book, however that the gap between men and women is narrowing.
“The MetLife Study of Sons At Work” study puts the current ratio at one in three. Why does this matter? It matters, because even female caregivers often don’t self-identify. They don’t go into caregiving thinking that they are taking on yet another job. They don’t recognize that caregiving is not just one small step (or dramatic step, as in caring for someone suddenly disabled by a stroke), but giant undertaking - one that is leading them down a long, life-altering path. Yet, women, traditionally, are more likely to ask for emotional support from friends or even professionals than men.
Men, action and goal oriented as they tend to be, often take on the task as though they are dealing with something that can be fixed. Something that has a logical solution. They figure they should just suck it up, or at least not complain that they are in emotional hell. They shouldn’t complain if their jobs, families, health and social life are suffering. They will often just live in denial (not that women can’t do this, too). They soldier on.
Even though women caregivers aren’t getting enough support, help, and services, men are even less visible. They are less visible because they don’t know how to become visible by stating their needs, therefore they are frequently getting even less support than women.
In my elder care column, I answer questions from readers. I am finding that at least a quarter of my questions come from sons. When I speak at caregiver’s events, I’m finding that increasing numbers of attendees are men. And in visiting caregiving facilities, I find that many of the men that I’m seeing are not just there as occasional visitors. They have been, and still are, primary caregivers. These men have to turn down job promotions because of caregiving demands and stress just as women do. These men lose time with their children just as women do. These men have health problems from caregiver stress just as women do. These men need respite relief, support groups, encouragement, and “talk therapy” just as women do. If you are a man who is a primary caregiver to an elder, please self-identify. Take care of yourself. Talk to other caregivers and get support – just as women do.