Dear President Obama,
I want to thank you for your proclamation in recognition of National Family Caregiver’s Month. As an advocate for family caregivers, and one myself, acknowledgements like yours make our work visible and that is so important. You see, so often we feel invisible in what we do. We hear leaders like you talk about the challenges working mothers, and fathers, face, and their need for parental leave, for better public polices, and for more flexibility in the work place. And they do need those things. But so too, do working daughters, and sons, who, as you point out, are trying to, “balance their own needs with those of their loved ones as caregivers.” We make choices and tradeoffs every day between eldercare, our paying jobs, our children, plus our own health and well-being. And too often we feel left out of the national conversation about supporting families.
That is why I am so grateful for National Family Caregiver’s Month and your recognition of it. And because yours is such a powerful and important voice, may I make a request, with all due respect of course? Mr. President, you state in your proclamation, “The women and men who put their loved ones before themselves show incredible generosity every day, and we must continue to support them in every task they selflessly carry out.” That’s really nice, but can you please not call us selfless? While I know your intent was to applaud us, it’s sentiments like that one that put so much pressure on us. Not intentionally, I know, but they do.
There is an image of a family caregiver in this country that while flattering, and sometimes true, is almost impossible to live up to. When we don’t live up to the ideal, we feel like we’ve failed. We feel as if we are letting down the people we care for and we never want to do that. But we have our own wants too. We want to not have to feel like we are choosing between spending time with our children or our aging parents. We want to not feel the pressure of deciding to show up for work or to take Dad to the doctor. We sometimes secretly long for a life unencumbered by responsibility and full of possibility. We keep these thoughts secret because we think we are the only ones who feel this way. Why wouldn’t we, when we hear ourselves described as selfless and incredibly generous? We think that’s the way we are supposed to be; that’s what society wants us to be. And so we feel ashamed and guilty when we are less than that, when our thoughts are less than selfless. But we should not feel that shame. Our conflicting feelings and our desire to pursue our own dreams while caring for someone else are perfectly normal.
Yes, family caregivers are amazing and deserve to be recognized. At the same time, we need society to recognize that we are more than caregivers. We are breadwinners, entrepreneurs, volunteers, parents, neighbors, and so many other things too. Because when we acknowledge that truth, we will recognize that caregivers need, as you state, support in every task they carry out.
So yes, we do need to continue to improve the healthcare system, fund and bolster state and local agencies and resources for the elderly, and better support our veterans. In addition, we need our employers to provide the flexibility and policies we need to be both caregivers and breadwinners. We need family leave, flextime, mentoring, and reentry-assistance programs. And, we need society to recognize we are caregivers and so many other things too. We need it to not just be okay to be caregivers and prioritize our own needs; we need it to be possible to be caregivers and prioritize our own needs.
Thank you Mr. President. Your support means so much.
P.S. Now let’s get our girl elected!