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Role models are mentors in caregiving

by Isabel Fawcett

Historically, there has been little formal caregiver training and development available to those of us who choose to care for our loved ones. Undaunted by lacking caregiver training, most caregivers have simply done our very best to accommodate basic needs and chronic illnesses of our loved ones. In some instances caregivers may have far more informal training than we realize.

Almost daily, sometimes multiple times, my mother asks me "who taught me to do all this?" She asks when, and from whom, I received what she perceives to be my caregiver training. She gives me high marks on her perceptions of my direct care.

Invariably, when she asks the question of me, my mind is elsewhere on caregiver autopilot. Once I mentally shift gears from direct care to process her question, there are only a few consistent answers.

Children Learn What They Live: Role Models in Caregiving

In my childhood, I learned:

"...how to provide direct care from you, Mom. You taught me how to care by being there for me when I was a child, including when I was sick. " My answer is never meant to flatter. My response comes straight from my heart--a place of undying gratitude to parents who loved me unconditionally.

"...to style and cut hair by watching your best friend who was your hairstylist. I'm not a licensed hairstylist. Like your best friend, I care about you and want to help you look and feel your best. No appointment needed." The power of observation in childhood is nothing short of remarkable.

"...if one gets out of bed in spite of illness, showers, changes into clean pajamas, eats a little something, and combs one's hair, one instantly feels better. Matters not if you are still weak and have to right crawl back into bed afterward. It worked as a child. I am glad it still works its magic for you, too."

Elder Care: Hair Care

Although not a bloodline relative, my mother's best friend is a lady whom I always refer to as my aunt, even though she is long dead. Having spent countless happy hours waiting in my aunt's hair salon whenever my mother got her hair styled, I learned by osmosis how to style Mom's hair. I enjoyed the sharing, laughter, and company of her lifetime friends, including my aunt and her other customers. I learned about hairstyling and good times.

As a full-time caregiver, washing, styling and cutting mother's hair is a labor of love. As Mom and my aunt did back then, direct care hairstyling remains a time of laughter, sharing among friends, reminiscing, and fond remembrances of my aunt.

Mentors and Role Models of Caregiving

Everything I learned about caregiving, I learned from my mother, father, my favorite uncle, and two caring aunts, each of whom were stay-at-home caregivers to my grandfather and grandmother at different times in their respective lives. My caregiver aunts never talked about direct care. Without realizing it, my aunts modeled and mentored direct care.

My older brother occasionally stayed home when I became sick to help my working parents care for me in my childhood. I needed to stay home from school when sick. From my brother's loving caregiving, I learned that being entertained when sick is just what the doctor ordered--even when my body relapsed and needed frequent restorative naps. He knew if I needed soup, water, or rest.

Carers in our lives are role models. My caregiver mentors are countless. I learned how to care for others through fine caregivers, including as a temporarily ill childhood recipient of such care.

Temporary and chronic illnesses are universal. It is reassuring to know that there are carers who intuitively, albeit unknowingly, become caregiving mentors and role models to others by providing loving continuity of care to those who are chronically ill.

I'm proof that children also learn what they live.