Historically, caring professions have primarily been populated by women of all ages. As children, girls are encouraged to take on responsibilities like caring for younger siblings, or as teens finding jobs as babysitters, while boys are directed toward traditional gender roles like lawn care and household maintenance. From our earliest origins, young mothers have borne the primary responsibility for raising their infants and children while men provided food, shelter and other life necessities. In the shifting cultural norms of today’s world, however, much has changed and recent surveys indicate that men exceed 40% of the family caregiver population. Men co-parent, do the cooking and housekeeping and enter caring professions like nursing and senior care at a higher rate than ever before.
For those men who choose a caring career path, the choice allows for the development of skill sets that were perhaps not previously honed, but for men who find themselves unexpectedly thrust into the role of family caregiver, the transition can be awkward, uncomfortable, or even terrifying!
My brother was my mother’s caregiver for several years. He checked up on her almost daily, making sure she was eating, staying healthy, and well provided for. He helped with her car maintenance, took care of her yard work, and tackled household maintenance whenever necessary. While he never bathed her (and I did on numerous occasions during her last year), my brother took great care of my mother during the last decade of her life. He arranged for professional CAREGivers through Home Instead’s local office when she began to need more companionship than he could provide. Gradually these wonderful individuals took over her household cleaning, laundry, and finally driving for shopping and errands. She grew to depend on Laverne and others to keep her as independent as possible. Whenever I came to visit, however, she told Home Instead she wouldn’t need anyone during the days I was there. I understood intimately how much care she needed during those times, but my brother used the resources he had available to him to fulfill his caregiver role when I wasn’t present.
Male family caregivers are often overlooked mostly because they care quietly, and don’t talk about their wants or needs. They internalize and suppress their stress and anxiety about providing the most intimate of care for their loved ones, going stoically about the tasks that might be embarrassing or difficult for themselves and their aging parents or others. Men may have the advantage when it comes to size and strength, so these attributes may be assets to their new role as a family caregiver, but these physical attributes might be offset by the emotional burden of caring for their loved one. AARP offers videos that can encourage men who find themselves caring for others.
Seth Goldsmith found himself caring for his wife of 20 years following her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Here are his ten steps for effective caregiving, gleaned from his experience and observations of others in his shoes.
Simply asking for help, finding peers who can offer support and encouragement, or even talk about your experiences and feelings with others who are going through similar circumstances can change how it feels to be a male caregiver.
Here are observations on how spousal caregiving differs from caring for an older family member, offered by Caring.com.
Chris and I hope you will join our conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about the men who care in your world.