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Advocacy for Caregivers – All of Them

I’ve been feeling kind of blocked; I took a lot of ideas and impressions home from Blogher and I’ve been going back and forth about posting about those here. There were several serious (and sometimes muddled) discussions going on at Blogher, along with all the usual technical conference stuff. However, the one thing I personally brought back from the conference was a re-clarification of what I want my blog to be; essentially, a fun place, fairly light-hearted with leanings towards the absurd; something that helps me deal with the day to day, something that hopefully lets other people smile, or vent, or just take a break. Really, my blog hasn’t been all that serious in tone (could you tell?). That doesn’t mean that I’m never serious or don’t have particular causes very close to my heart, or don’t support other issues, because I do. But this blog, in general, is not really the place where I want to talk about those things (though I do reserve the right to talk of those things in the future, if I so chose). Yet, I have found that there is one particular impression from Bogher that I keep thinking about, circling back to, and it’s getting in the way of my writing regular posts. So here it goes, a moment of seriousness.

One of the discussions I heard often at the conference was that moms are discriminated against and what forms of activism we could do to change this. I don’t disagree with this, or the movements for change, at all. But there was something about these conversations that troubled me... and it was the fact that it was always, “moms, moms, moms”. I have an issue with this because it reminds me of the first wave of feminism where all the concerns about women’s rights centered on white, middle-class women. For the record, there are a lot of other caregivers out there besides just moms. 

I sincerely believe that we need to start a conversation in this country about how we feel about caregivers. That’s caregivers in the broad sense – moms and dads, stepparents, grandparents, foster care and social workers, educators, nurses, hospice workers, those who care for the elderly – all the people who take care of others, all the ones we expect to selflessly give and whom we dismiss. Because the fact of the matter is we have entitlement issues in the US.  We expect our moms to be of a certain idea - the selfless giver – and yet we don’t value the job they do, their opinions, their needs. We expect our dads to be “good dads” but not to ask for extra time to spend with their families. When teachers or nurses go on strike for cost-of-living increases they face numerous criticisms of “what about the children” as if they are being shamelessly selfish. And what about those who care for the elderly? (Well, it seems like any conversations about the elderly make us put our collective heads in the sand.) We all expect, and feel entitled to have these services available, but we don’t value those workers, we don’t value the jobs the same way other countries that have developed forms of socialized, universal care, value those roles. We feel entitled to these services, not because they are important jobs, but because that’s how these people should naturally be – parents should be selfless, teachers should be selfless, nurses should be selfless – it should be a part of their intrinsic nature and how dare they ever want for anything other than that?

It’s easy for us to say “moms against the world”. We grew up with the feminist fight, it’s familiar, almost built-in, the indignities and dismissals we face as moms are just one more way women are repressed in the world. Right? But it is an exclusive fight. Sometimes it’s harder to step outside of our situation, to take a look and acknowledge the similarities of positions that other roles in our society might be facing – whether those roles are manned by men or women, moms, parents or otherwise – than to simply cry “foul” about ourselves.

We are so good at shoving issues, shoving people away – stay-at-home parents shoved into their houses, the teachers shoved into their classrooms, the elderly and sick shoved in their homes. Shoved away so don’t have to think about them, because we don’t want to talk about them. Or if we talk about them, which the blog world really is trying to do, it’s often still one small manageable segment. Or worse, maybe two of those segments pitted against each other, like moms vs. dads, working mothers vs. stay-at-homes. We don’t discuss the interconnectivity of these caregiver roles, we don’t let them out from where we’ve shoved them. Why do we seem afraid to have them all out in the world, in the sun, with us?

I would love to see a true conversation develop about how we feel and what we expect from caregivers because I think that conversation could expose ourselves – our preconceptions, our prejudices, our reactions – to ourselves. I don’t think many of us really look deeply about what it means to be a caregiver until we are thrust into the role, and even then we are often trapped within the societal norms we were raised with. I think a movement towards change could be furthered by a close look inside ourselves and our society; a really close look at what “caregiver” in all its forms means. And if we don’t like what we see then we can begin a change in national consciousness about how we value our caregivers.

These are my concerns about continuing advocacy discussions that only include mothers… 1) In all honesty, I’m not sure that it’s a fight we can win as “just moms”; I’m afraid, for all the universality of being a mother, that it’s still too exclusive, too narrow (and yes, still too dismissed) to affect the change in national consciousness that I think we need (besides that, as we all know, anything with “mommy” in the title stirs up in-fighting – which is one of the reasons, ladies, that we are dismissed).  And 2) even if we were to win that fight, is it fair that whole segments of other caregivers are not included, or left behind to struggle on their own? Do we want a repeat akin to the second and third waves of feminism where suddenly we acknowledge that there were whole communities that still felt invisible and unheard?

We (us chicks) have a lot of power in this world, more than any other period in history. But outside of the political clout and opportunities in business, we also have the enormous power as parents, as caregivers, of raising our kids to view the world the way we want it to be. Like the children of hippies who expect environmental alternatives today, we have the same opportunity to change the way our children think about caregivers. For our children to value those roles more than maybe we do now. For our children to expect those services that we talk about - universal healthcare, quality child care, flexible work options for parents, better education – not because they feel entitled to them… but because they value and honor those who work those jobs, because they feel those roles are important.

Sincerely,
the weirdgirl

Comments

Lisa

Very, very well expressed. And, I agree, there needs to be a more general segment of the population besides just "moms". We continue to have enough segregation in this nation whether based on race, sex, income, sexual preference, religion, political background, etc. One more isolated group will either be lost in the shuffle, or not taken seriously.

Mom101

Whoo! SO well-considered and thoughtful. As someone with a sahd in da house, even a temporary one, I should have thought of this sooner. Thanks for the eye-opener.

Godmother

Right on Weirdgirl! You are so right!

mothergoosemouse

Wow. That was excellent.

I've worked as a substitute caregiver in my daughters' day care, and it prompted me to write a post about the do's and don'ts of working with your caregiver. So many working mothers strive for the ideals you mentioned and then turn around and treat their caregivers with disrespect.

Kristen

Fantastic post.

I think the change mothers desire should be broadened to include all caregivers.

I do, however, feel that with mother's rights, there's also a notion of women's rights -- we can't say that in terms of all caregivers.

Her Bad Mother

Bravo, bravo, bravo. I think that so long as we keep in mind that there are *some* caregiving issues that are unique to women (tho' this would also be true for men) we really are better situated to make difference than if we remain entirely focussed on MOMS.

the weirdgirl

I absolutely agree that there are certain rights issues that are unique to women and those fights should continue. However, when men try to step out of traditional roles into caregiver roles they end up facing the same challenges that we do (and sometimes are taken even seriously than we are).

I'm also concerned about the strange levels of value we place on different types of caregivers. Such as (like mothergoosemouse points out), nannies and day care workers seem to be at the bottom, dads rank below moms, a non-parent (such as a foster or step-parent) ranks below a biological parent, etc. If we want to improve conditions for everyone in these arenas I don't think we can keep splintering care into levels of value, considering that we're already fighting to have caregiving valued in itself. I mean, of course a preschool teacher won't be bonded to a child like a parent would, but they're still providing care to our children for significant amounts of time. Why do we dismiss their contributions?

Kristen

I think it is a women's issue and not a caregiver issue when SAHDs and male caregivers are given more respect then moms and females. That lends itself less to the overall notion of caregivers and more to plain old sexism.

I do agree with you that there is an overall lack of respect for the role and responsibilities of caregivers.

the weirdgirl

Hey Kristen,

That's an interesting point. I've seen some males in caregiver roles, such as male nurses and SAHD, getting very little respect and they become very isolated (because they don't have the same communities of support that we do).

BUT at the same time, I do agree that SAHDs and male caregivers seem sought after by the media more than we women are - such as advertisers, news articles, and overall business opportunities. Yet, it seems guys get slapped hard when they try to leave the workplace for family.

I'd love to hear some male perspectives. Any guys out there who want to share your experiences?

the weirdgirl

Well, it seems like the men are MIA. Why is it when I'm talking about boobs they all comment? Theories anyone?

Chag

Ok. I'll raised my hand.

SAHDs do NOT get more respect than SAHMs.

SAHDs get very little respect among other men. Even though it's 2007, most men feel a man's job is to "bring home the bacon" and "provide" and all that crap. Because of this, and I really hate that I do this, I'll often tell men I just meet that including being a SAHD, I also do "programming work on the side." Why do I feel the need to justify that I do something else? I've become so jaded by the blank stares that I just instinctively append my job description with that line.

Women, especially those who are SAHMs, strongly respect SAHDs, though. At least that's what I've always found.

But I gotta strongly disagree about "SAHDs and male caregivers seem sought after by the media more than we women are." Sure, US Weekly might run a story about someone's manny and they might run an article on how much Tom Brady loves fatherhood, but that's about it. And advertisers? Never seen anything with a "Father Tested, Father Approved" tagline or anything of the sort. Show me a parenting magazine that's geared towards BOTH parents, let alone dads. Show me a commercial or television show that paints a SAHD in a favorable light. Most of the time, we're painted as bumbling, clueless, oafs.

Respect? Yeah, I'll take some.

(Sorry I rambled on so much)

Kristen

Yeah. But I'm still waiting for my articles and mentions in the WSJ, Chag.

I will say that I agree with you -- I imagine you get a mouthful from WOHDs, although SAHDs seem to get more media attention in terms of being an anomale.

I suppose that's not all positive attention.

And seriously, if you want to try out my breast pump and give it a dad's stamp of approval, I'm all for it.

But only if I can watch.

Heh. :)

Momish

I am in awe of how well you have written about this important and passionate issue. I totally agree with you on every aspect. I use to work in the mental health field as a rehabilitation councelor. I was so grossly underpaid, I eventually had to leave the profession in order to survive on my own.

I would love to see all caregivers better paid and appreciated more. It would open the door to better care for those in need. Children, elderly, sick, etc.

Great post and a topic in definite need of more research and attention.

the weirdgirl

Chag, thank you for sharing with us! (And you didn't ramble at all.)

Momish, it's good to hear from you. I think there are many professions, like people who work in social services and medical/psychiatric fields, that a lot of people forget... simple because what they do is too "uncomfortable". Thanks for speaking up!

LawyerMama

Fantastic post. I wrote something about the treatment of caregivers in a guest post at Pundit Mom's yesterday, but you bring up an excellent point that I missed - the hierarchy of care giving. Personally, I admire anyone who works with children all day. I couldn't do it and it's such an important job. Our sitter is a part of our family. The boys love her and she loves them. Can you say that about any other "service provider" in your life? Hell no. So let's give them respect.

As for the mom versus dad thing, I see an interesting dichotomy. When my hubs has the boys out by himself, shopping or whatever, he invariably has women coming up to him, asking about the boys, and generally telling him what an outstanding dad he is for "giving mom a break." Have any of the women here had anyone come up to you and say something similar? Yeah, I didn't think so.

But SAHD's don't get respect, I agree. There's still this view in society that a woman is the caretaker and a man is a wage earner. Only when more men stay at home or work at home, or whatever, will society begin to change its view. And it's a slow process.

AdventureDad

I totally agree with you on these issues. Personally, i think it would be a good start to make it a priority. Priorities right now are war, war, war, and then perhaps something else.

It would be a nice change to value women higher, I feel they are second class citizens in US. Luckily, wrong word I know, most people have no idea just how bad it is and how low priority mothers really are.

Spend a week or a month in Sweden or perhaps get a job and you would see how a gender equal society should work. One that does value women's hard work and makes it possible for them to work, have babies, and a family.

It's no perfect over here but women have sure come a long long way.

AD

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