Caring is one of those fraught topics. I find that it is in many ways an invisible thing and to draw attention to it is to sound ungrateful for the care you receive, or like you begrudge the care you give. Or, perhaps simply worrying that you might sound like a petulant child complaining that ‘It’s not fair!’
Then there are the different ways in which caring happen and the way that it seems like, some forms of care seem to have more legitimate cause to draw attention to the invisible work load; such as caring as a mother or primary care-giver, caring for an elder person or providing care to someone who is disabled. These areas are so important to focus on and I appreciate the need to continually reinforce the nature of this unpaid care work that happens.
However, care work also happens in less obvious places and these can also be difficult to navigate in terms of receiving care, recognition or balance. There is the general expectation of caring because you’re female (and are therefore good at it). This gets more focus in the other specific areas I mention above by their nature as being spaces where women caring is prevalent. But, I think that while these specific spaces draw attention to the idea of women as caregivers, it is also important to discuss it as an overall issue.
Another space where unpaid/under recognised care work can be overlooked is being in the position where you are good at caring. I find as someone who has a talent and desire for caring that being recognised as being good at caring kind of becomes the basis for what is ‘ordinary’ in how people engage with you and the expectations they have. At this point it is harder to be the person in need of care, as though being good at it means that you have things so marvellously together that you are less in need of the kind of care you give.
All of these spaces, those in focus and those more invisible show that there is a dangerous gap in how caring happens where in large part, the people doing the caring are less able to access it effectively (or at all). Or, even if they can access care themselves there is pressure for them to need it less because performing the work of care is perceived as being its own reward or caring in nature. Another aspect I’ve noticed is that in seeking care, those who offer it are more likely to be in need of it themselves, intensifying that need. Certainly this is personally true for me.
The importance of care work continues to be one of the massive standing ‘elephants in the room’. The doing of caring work is so conditioned, the assumption that care work will happen is so ingrained, and the social constructions around the value of care work, are such that the entirety becomes completely invisible.
With the invisibility of care and its value, comes the difficulty in accessing care as a person who does the work of caring. It’s a fallacy that doing care or being good at caring negates our need to receive it. Here it’s probably useful to mention the usefulness and importance of self care, and yet being able to do this for yourself does not negate the need to experience care from others.
And yet, my awareness of this does not address the difficulty with which I may access care, or feel entitled to care. My conversations with myself in this area involve rationalisation and justification about the work I do to take care of myself, to balance the energy I spend on care giving and even that I simply must be better at asking for and articulating what I need. These are invariably, not useful conversations because they are all about creating conditions under which I am or am not worthy of care.
Simply put, being valued by the people in my life means I am worthy of care (it means I’ve designated these people being worthy of care in return also). That’s a very practical and immediately relevant way of articulating care worthiness, and it’s not the only way or even the kindest or most compassionate way of articulating care worthiness. However, talking about the people who need care because they do the work of care, makes it a more relevant distinction than simply drawing a blanket around the idea that we all deserve care (I believe we do).
How then to receive caring when it is needed? How to ask for it, how to articulate what is desired for care… Who is available to provide care – are they someone who is also over-allocated for care work and in need of care themselves? Is it about valuing care more – or more financially? Is it about getting more people to consciously act in the role of caring?
There are no easy answers to these (and related) questions. In asking or writing this I am still experiencing the desire for care and the awareness that care is not readily available to me in a desired form. Plus, allowing someone to care for me without guilt feeling like I should be caring is also a factor. Mainly in writing this I wanted to draw attention to those of us who wouldn’t be immediately recognised as someone over-allocated in providing care work. I’m good at it, I value it, I enjoy caring… and yet… I am also wishful feeling burned out and emotionally fragile, wanting someone else to perform care for me. Wishing I could relax enough to let them.