Celebrating carers who always put others first is a dangerous message

Once again I’m seeing red at the headlines around the Carer of the Year Awards. Always putting others first is not a good long term strategy. I know women who’ve died young because they were too busy caring to get their health needs met, let alone anything else. If you’re a carer for life, as I am, you have to look after your physical, mental and emotional health in order to keep caring without burnout. But these constant media messages about selflessness put huge pressure on carers not to look for help, and relieve society of the guilt they feel about not offering it — with some exceptions, of course.

As I am totally overwhelmed right now, I am going to recycle another old article, that says a bit more on the same subject, with apologies to the organisers and to those who do enjoy these awards.

When you become a carer, everything changes. Not just your own life, but society’s expectations too. No matter what you were like before, you are immediately obliged to take on saintly qualities and become endlessly patient, loving, energetic, unselfish, undemanding and uncomplaining, with a beatific smile permanently plastered on your face. Don’t believe me? Look at the Carer of the Year Awards. Now obviously I have huge admiration for the winners, they manage the most challenging situations and care for the longest number of years. But what do these awards say to the rest of us?

Keep your head down, keep caring and if things get really tough, you might get a day out at an awards ceremony in 30 years time.

Don’t complain, don’t look for help, there’s many people who are much more deserving than you.

You made it through the day? Congratulations on “surviving”.

Having special children makes a family special (well actually it’s made me cross, fat, sick and tired).

You think your life is difficult? Well guess what, it’s going to get harder and you will still be expected to keep going.

“I’ve learned that you can keep going long after you think you can’t.” Except when you actually can’t.

Yep, these are the messages that we hear all the time. They may help carers to keep going, they may find them inspiring. I understand that, I really do. But sometimes they just make me feel like screaming…

In the words of the song, Is That All There Is?

Is getting through another day all that we have to look forward to? Well I think that carers deserve better than that. I want more, both for me and for the other carers that I know. Somewhere out there are carers whose lives do not resemble those of the award winners. I want to hear about them.

Where are the stories of carers who have made a conventional success of their lives? 
Who have careers, who set up businesses? 
Who live in nice homes, enjoy hobbies and nights out, have great respite?
Whose children are settled in quality residential care, and who don’t feel guilty about it and are not ashamed to say so as they know that they’ve made the best decision for their family.
Who go on holidays, for goodness sake? 

Yep, maybe they needed a lot of help to achieve these things. So let’s celebrate the people who helped them. The services that make a difference. Let’s tell the world that many carers need that help, very very badly. They are not bad people. Everyone has a breaking point. Congratulations if you haven’t reached yours yet. But do not judge those who have. It could be you tomorrow.

 

 

Advertisements

What I would tell that frightened new mum of a 26 week baby

I know you’re shocked and stunned, I know this seems completely unreal. I know you think this is a nightmare and you’re going to wake up and find that you’re still pregnant.

Preemie, #WorldPrematurityDay , 26 weeker,

You need to know. This is real.

That tiny scrap attached to tubes and monitors that ring and beep and flash. That’s your newborn baby. And yes she’s fighting for her life. But she’s going to make it.

Your life is going to change utterly, but in many ways it will be so much better, and you will change too. You will face challenges that you never expected and find strength that you never knew you had. I won’t lie to you: there will be battles ahead. With an indifferent state and an uncaring bureaucracy. But you will find help, you will find support, and most of all you will find friends, old friends who stay in your life and new friends in the same situation.

Her suffering in the hospital will end, because she will be stabilised and they will find a combination of medicines to treat her. Those bitter tears you cried with despair at not knowing how to help your daughter will be replaced with smiles of joy when she smiles at you every morning. You have the internet now, and there is lots of advice and support groups that can help. But you still might try desperate treatments. You might visit healers who live on remote mountain tops, travel abroad with a hired oxygen machine for specialist help, consult every type of therapist until you can’t take any more disappointment. You look at adults with cerebral palsy and wonder which one your daughter will resemble. Do not worry, she will look like herself.

Are you even wondering what you want for her on her 21st birthday, right now when all you want is for her to live?

To be happy?
To fulfil her potential?
To be kind and affectionate?
To be patient?
To be sociable?
To enjoy life?
To live the life of a young woman and enjoy music and dancing, shopping and friends?

She is and she will.

It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be okay.

B, all grown up, premature baby, #WorldPrematurityDay

(This is a revamped old post)

 

On celebrating the saints and scroungers during Carers Week

Because that’s how the public sees us.

Every story about the selfless middle aged woman* caring for elderly parents and disabled children feeds into the saint narrative, which reaches its peak during Carers Week and the annual carers’ awards. And while I’m very happy for those who win and enjoy the accolade, there are carers like me who find the whole thing a bit patronising: it’s like society feels that all we need to keep going is an annual pat on the head.

No mention of real support, pay for the work we do, pension arrangements for when we are too old to care, or anything that really matters.

The rest of the year we’re painted as scroungers.

Of course keyboard warriors like me were blamed when Leo Varadkar (likely to be the next Irish PM) had to row back on his rhetoric about being a leader for people who get up early in the morning. He had to add in carers, and others. But the genie was already out of the bottle, as the above article shows, giving permission to portray carers as whingy costly parasites, so long as it’s not Carers Week.

I write about my life as a carer, and luckily the words pour out of me head like a torrent: I don’t have to sit down and wonder what to write, instead I find myself jotting down thoughts whenever I have a spare few seconds, often when I’m doing something else as well!

But it is hard to find the time or energy to write when you’re a carer, so there’s very few of us who do, but I’d like to introduce you to two friends of mine. Like me, neither will be attending of the events for carers during Carer’s Week. Because they can’t.

This week is Carer’s Week. There will be a wide variety of events across Ireland for carers to attend – lunches, coffee mornings, walks, pamper events with manicures and massages, nights out with music and dancing – all to celebrate and treat the much deserving carers. But, how many of the nation’s carers can attend? I can’t. I’m housebound while my son is bedridden. I have no one to relieve me so I can go to any of those events.I have no one to relieve me so I can go to any of those events.

Read more at Transitioning Angels

We’re back to no sleep. But with Luca I think he has constipation issues again, he’s back on movicol.

Emmy was supposed to go for a blood test today but no one up to the hour drive there and hour drive home and we’re still a bit under weather so I cancelled the appointment, all I seem to do lately is cancel appointment after appointment

We’ve reached the stage where we get no energy boost at all, just permanemt tiredness and feeling flat, the weather isn’t helping. 

I bought cbd capsules for myself during the week, they should be here today, can’t wait to get started as I’m in a shit heap, constant fibro flare and pains in stomoch from IBS.

Read more at the Spectrum Facebook Page.

Both write about the harsh realities of extreme caring in a world that doesn’t really want to know, doesn’t want to think about it, doesn’t want to imagine that it could happen to them too. Even though it could.

 

*The peak age for caring amongst women was 45–49, with 11.2% of women in this age group providing unpaid care, amounting to 572,680 hours of care every week, according to the 2011 census.

 

Why happy parents are important

A wonderful post on motherhood and contentment from Karen at Beating Myself into a Dress reminded me of something I wrote a couple of years ago. So I revamped it..

Happiness was something I never considered as my hands shook looking at that thin blue line back in 1992. I was going to be a mum, and I just got on with it, and the job and the running, and the marriage and everything else in between. As you do.

But along the way, I’ve learned a few things, and noticed how much has changed over the years.

Many parents, especially mums, seem to invest far more time and emotional energy in their kids than my parent’s generation did: most of my interactions with my Mum and Dad were on family outings, plus board games and cricket with my Dad. At home we were sent out to play, and even meal times were spent reading books and newspapers, with The Archers on the radio. Very middle class, I know. Today we seem to spend many more hours with our children, especially if we are full time parents in the home. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who didn’t realise all the demands that would be made of me as a mother. So many life changes, and I’ve not always accepted them with good grace.

Anyone who believes they have given up a lot for their kids could feel some of this, especially if motherhood does not live up to their expectations. And then if most of your time and energy has been invested in your children, you could well feel depressed and even betrayed if they turn around and disrespect you and take you for granted. Which some do, especially when they hit the difficult teenage years. But if you do everything for your children, isn’t there a danger that this will happen naturally? Sadly it seems to be a human trait not to value the everyday quiet loving care that is provided by the stay-at-home parent. Else why does the one coming home from work usually get a rapturous welcome?

Would it make a difference if children think the stay at home parent is happy in their role? I think perhaps it would. I’m not talking about ecstatic happiness, but contentment, cheerfulness and positivity. Not at all times, obviously. They need to see all the emotions: grief when someone dies, anger at injustice, hurt when someone is cruel, but I think our children need to see that we are happy to be their parents. If they see us looking sad every day, they may think it’s their fault, even if we tell them that our happiness is our responsibility, as I do, they may still blame themselves.

Perhaps, like me, all stay at home parents needs to work on their own happiness. To help themselves, and their children too.