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Caregiver myths unveiled

by Isabel Fawcett

Caregivers are widely misunderstood, socially invisible and routinely second-guessed. My fellow caregivers may agree that is the shorter, kinder social list.

Common Perceptions of Caregivers

Some individuals who are not caregivers and even those who may be, or used to be caregivers at some time in their lives, may sometimes project certain feelings towards active caregivers.

"Must be nice," is a recurring phrase caregivers hear from friends, strangers and acquaintances, if the caregiver happens to mention his or her full-time, stay-at-home caregiver status. The underlying assumption in "must be nice" is pretty clear, namely: "You obviously have the financial means to do what you are doing!" The alternative catch-all is, "I wish I had the means to do what you are doing."

It sure would be nice, especially if it were also true for most caregivers who choose the path of full-time, stay-at-home care to a loved one. "Must be nice" words and misperceptions offer little, if any comfort to individual caregivers. Instead, for some caretakers "must be nice" widens the social chasm between caregivers and those who assume, presume and help reinforce caregiver isolation and social invisibility, albeit unintentionally.

Some individuals simply follow the path of caregiving from our hearts--not our wallets--though thinking about one's wallet is highly recommended, preferably before you take the plunge. Don't do as I did following my caregiver's heart. Instead, consider doing the prudent thing by doing the math first.

I have seen, heard, and read stories about scared, lonely, full-time, stay-at-home caregivers, who wonder what will happen financially if their loved one(s) die before the caregiver dies. Sometimes their loved ones die in debt, without life insurance, and without their financial affairs in order. What happens to caregivers who are already between a rock and a hard place? "Must be nice?" No, it is not nice when the financial reality hits home and hits hard.

Choosing the path of caregiving to the detriment of earning a steady income is another reason that being a full-time, stay-at-home caregiver is not all roses. At the conclusion of telephone conversations with one of my friends his parting line is always, "Some of us have to work for a living." My reply is always, "Must be nice." The inference underlying the "must be nice" perception is that stay-at-home caregivers are independently wealthy, not the least bit affected by a dismal economy.

Until you and I have walked a mile in another caregiver's shoes, even if we are intimately familiar with the considerable challenges of caregiving, it is best not to assume that a caregiver's life "must be nice," or a charmed existence. Even if a caregiver were independently wealthy, around-the-clock assistive support to a fellow human being who has multiple chronic health issues is not a walk in the park. Some caregivers might feel greater understanding of their situation if told, "It sure must be scary to be a caregiver." Yes, it is, as a matter of fact.

A Caregiver Needs to Get Out

Being out of physically and mentally exhausting daily business routines, including daily commuting in heavy traffic to jobs not close to home, witnessing too many accidents on the highway, being stuck in traffic jams, inclement weather conditions on the road, and constantly being on the go are not on my 'missing you' or need to do now list.

Neither is workplace politics on my missing you wish-you-were-here list. Working at something else for a change, albeit temporarily, is respite enough for me, as is contemplating what really matters in my life. It is also nice to be in my home long enough to enjoy the comforts of home for which I have toiled long hours over the years. It is best to 'first *seek to understand an individual caregiver's worldview, lifestyle choices and more before offering well-meaning advice or engaging in such invasive and stereotypical projections toward any, or all caregivers.

Before I chose to stay at home to provide round-the-clock assistive support to Mom, I enjoyed my chosen profession and positions over the years. As a (former) paid member of the American workforce, I worked and played hard. In one of my private sector corporate HR roles, I had no qualms about occasionally working until 9 p.m., or later as my workload may have required. Back then, I was not a caregiver to Mom. After long workdays, I invariably treated myself to a nice dinner out, sometimes four nights weekly. Now that I am a full-time Caregiver, I enjoy home cooking, my kitchen, my garden, trying to play catch up on a few home organizing projects, getting a headstart on downsizing, and simply enjoying the many cozy nooks of my home. I can't say I miss dining out, much less always being on the go, stuck in traffic, and/or over-scheduling my life.

At this serene stage of my life, I welcome singular focus on my loved one who needs assistive support.