The art of caregiving

The art of caregiving. How do we teach caregiving? Is it at all possible to “teach” someone how to care? I am not so sure…
I have studied many training manuals over the years. I have developed some myself of which I was very proud. I have presented workshops at international conferences on the topic of “non-Western adult learning theory” and trained more than a thousand caregivers. And somehow, I doubt that the “training” had an impact.
Essentially, what we try to achieve through “training” is to encourage people to BE differently in the world. To react in a different way, respond in a different way to the stimuli of what they perceive to be a need from an Elder. So – I see someone that is thirsty – I give them water. Or not. I see someone struggling to peel an orange, I do it for them. Or not. I am told that an Elder needs to have a shower/go to the toilet/needs help eating, I go and shower/help them to the toilet/help them eat. Tick – good carer! Happy manager. Simple. Trainer paid well. Please come again? Maybe not.
What makes a trainer or a training program successful? Having changed the way that Caregivers act or behave? Changing the way that they respond to the needs of those whom they care for, being more attentive, more engaged, doing as much as possible for the Elders without them even asking for help? OR NOT! In this country we have sadly grown up with a “Madam and Eve” mentality. Madam asks, Eve does. This is how we create “learned helplessness”. We create needs and provide care, instead of encouraging Elders to do as much as possible for themselves. We quickly hear perfectly capable Elders saying “I pay your salary!”, demanding that Caregivers are at their beck and call 24/7. In so-called “upmarket” establishments, quality of care is advertised as having a dedicated Caregiver for each Elder. (One on one care). This, in my opinion, is one of the worst trends in our care sector. NO one, and I honestly want to say not a single person on this planet, wants to have another person in their presence 24 hours a day, waiting to “help” them whenever they would need to lift a finger. This trend created helplessness, takes away autonomy and fosters dependence.
So what is the answer? True caregiving is an art. It is the art of forming authentic relationships, of getting to know each other through shared stories and creative engagement – in both directions. Dr. Bill Thomas said: “if your employee’s children are performing better at school because their Mother works in your Care Home, THEN you understand what care is”. This to me is probably one of the most profound statements I have ever heard. Think about it. Caregivers are not JUST Caregivers. They are the people closest to the Elders, who know them the best. Do you know the names of the children of the person who is your Mother’s Caregiver? Do you know in which grade they are in school? Their hobbies? Because that woman who leaves the Care Home tonight at 19h00 after a 12-hour shift is NOT JUST a Caregiver. She is a Mother, maybe even a Grandmother. And she is going home tonight, most probably only getting there at 21h00 or 22h00, taking taxis and trains and walking miles. She has to cook for a family, help children with homework, be a wife. Her children’s performance at school in the morning is dependent on the ‘mood’ in which she will leave work tonight, the energy that she has left to share with her loved ones.
Think about that for a moment. And then realise that genuine human care can only flourish in a reciprocal relationship where the Caregiver feels, yes FEELS, that they are also cared for, that their story is known, that they are seen and heard. That they are not told “you must leave your personal problems at home”, but that they are well known for the human beings, the Mothers and Grandmothers that they are. THEN they will honour their spiritual calling and be the Caregivers that we try and teach them to be. THEN they will honour the sacredness of the human spirit of every Elder much as their spirit is honoured.
I no longer want to do “training”. I simply want to sit and listen to stories and honour them. That is the way, I believe, we will make this country a better place and create environments of genuine human caring. Sela.

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