Carol Bradley Bursack
October 21, 2007
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 kept stumbling on caregiving men. My final percentage 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, I decided some research was in order. Through that research, I found my one-in-four ratio was about right, at the time I was writing “Minding Our Elders,” but that the gap between men and women is narrowing. “The MetLife Study of Sons At Work” puts that 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 that it is a huge step, 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, because they don’t know how to become visible – therefore they are getting even less support than women.
In my elder care column, “Minding Our Elders,” I, often with the help of expert’s in the appropriate fields, 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 I’m running into 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.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a columnist, author, speaker and blogger. She is author of "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories". Bursack also offers http://www.mindingourelders.com, a website that shines a light on the isolation often felt by caregivers and seniors. MindingOurElders.com gives them a voice.