A Valentine For a Caregiver

By Peter Rosenberger

Of the 43.5 million of those being an unpaid caregiver to an adult or child in the last year, AARP shares that 60 percent are women.  Following a somewhat exhaustive search, no data seems to exist reflecting how the laundry and household chores are divided between men and women. Based upon calls to my show and conversations had with many male caregivers, however, a growing trend seems to show that while their wives struggle to care for an aging parent, many men seem to overlook the growing pile of laundry in the home—as well as other things.

In addition, the iron seems to fall into disuse during lengthy caregiving stints.  While food arrives in the home via carryout or delivery, the pantry itself lacks basics being restocked. If made, the beds don’t often see fresh linens, and the bathrooms …well, let’s just say that they don’t reflect a “freshness.”

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For a wife following a heartbreaking day of watching a parent (s) slip away, arriving home to an untidy house, piles of laundry, a packaged meal, and a bathroom that, well …, only adds to the weariness.

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As the baby-boomer population ages, the strain on American households will only increase. Shared responsibilities must become a conversation topic for the family unit.  If not, resentment is only a hamper away.

To their credit, many men seem sincere in adapting to tasks previously assumed or regulated by women.  The conversation about household chores among the sexes, however, is not about gender equality.  It’s about love and consideration.  Serving as a caregiver wears on the soul and body in ways only understood by those who’ve punched that clock. Years into the role, the little things increase in value to the family caregiver. Folded laundry, a clean bed, heart-healthy home-cooked meal, a well-stocked pantry, and timely paid bills.

All too often on Valentine’s Day, the traditional gifts of chocolate, flowers, dinner out, and sometimes lingerie serve as the expressions of love.  For a caregiver, however, those things seem perfunctory or sometimes meaningless. Imagine crying your eyes out after bathing or wiping your mother who lives with dementia —and who curses at you while doing so, and then going home to a messy house and a needy husband.

What about that cries out “romance?” For that matter, how does it even reflect love?

Caregivers want to be seen. They want their pain acknowledged, and they don’t want platitudes or the low-hanging fruit of customary gifts. Picture instead, wonderful chocolates resting on a clean pillowcase in a freshly made bed.  Or a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a scrubbed and sparkling bathroom. Instead of lingerie, men …lay out the most comfortable pajamas she owns.

Planning a meal requires a bit of effort. Simply firing up the grill isn’t enough. Setting a proper table and serving heart-healthy meals that reflect thoughtfulness and observation of what your spouse enjoys. When serving dinner, the keyword is “serving,” and cleaning is just as important as cooking.  The task remains unfinished until the kitchen and/or dining room are restored to pristine condition.

Loving without expecting represents a higher form of love. Seeing and meeting the need without requiring recognition or even a “thank-you” expresses a deeper awareness and character.  In the case of a caregiver, the greatest expression they may be able to give is to fall asleep while you tuck them into bed. Their rest can be all the recognition the spouse or partner of a caregiver needs.

February 14 becomes just another day when bent under the grief of caring for an impaired loved one. Yet that same day can signify a milestone in any relationship when a supporting partner pushes past the stereotypes and steps into a level of love that many desire, but few have the courage to offer—or receive.

A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference. – Winne the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

 Peter Rosenberger hosts a radio program for family caregivers broadcast weekly on more than 200 stations. He has served as a caregiver for his wife Gracie, who has lived with severe disabilities for more than 30 years. He is the author of several books including Hope for the Caregiver@hope4caregiver

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