We know that caregiving can be stressful and tiring. But what if caregiving can also be… enjoyable?
During a search for caregiver-related articles online, one of the first results that popped up on my screen was: “Embracing the New Normal – Caregiver Stress”.
With a super-aged population on the horizon, our younger ones are poised to be new caregivers. How would they feel if they were looking at the same search results as I was? As a potential young caregiver myself, I could feel my heart drop a little and a tiny voice in my head saying, “Wah, jialat.”
Other search results, although not as gloomy, were also focused on the challenges and stressors of caregiving for a sick loved one. With good reason, of course.
One would be ignorant to downplay the insurmountable responsibilities that caregivers shoulder every second of every day. The nature of caregiving is such that it demands not just physical effort but also mental diligence and emotional sustenance from its provider. Daily duties involve and are not limited to handling medical regimes, traversing the healthcare system and taking charge of other dependents, alongside providing psychological support to the patient throughout the illness trajectory. Caregivers must also manage a multitude of emotions and practical struggles as they navigate the changes, and sometimes losses, in their personal lives.
Narratives of such challenges throw light upon the day-to-day struggles of caregivers. They serve to strengthen the voices of advocacy for pro-caregiver policies, services and programs, so that governments, organisations and society can do their part in helping caregivers navigate their tremendous journeys with more ease.
However, to truly understand a phenomenon, it is important to explore all sides of the narrative.
When I casually mentioned to a friend that I would be writing about the enjoyable side of caregiving, he raised his eyebrows incredulously at me and uttered, “Caregiving leh! Where got such thing as fun?”
Numerous peer-reviewed studies on positive caregiving experiences would prove my disbelieving friend wrong. Researchers are now paying attention to not just the burdens, but the blessings of the caregiving journey. And these blessings are plentiful.
We often talk about ‘coping’ as a caregiver – pulling together enough physical and mental resources to survive yet another day.
However, an increasing number of studies show that caregivers are not just surviving but thriving. They are feeling positive emotions like happiness, gratitude and pride, fostering healthy relationships with themselves and others, enjoying quality time with their loved one (the patient), discovering their creative and spiritual sides, picking up new hobbies, and attaining a sense of fulfilment — all amidst well-known stressors and challenges. There are even caregiver websites dedicated to humour, where caregivers share the most embarrassing or hair-pulling moments of their day, and everyone has a good chuckle because ‘been there, done that’. Caregivers are living and re-telling their stories in ways that showcase their ability to flourish and laugh in the face of adversity.
Caregivers are having fun.
Recent research has considered how an individual’s attitude towards caregiving can have a key impact on how they perceive stressors and challenges; caregivers who approach their roles with more optimism, calmness and purpose are thought to have more positive outcomes in their quality of life and wellbeing. This means that apart from providing practical and ‘coping- centred’ support like financial assistance and competency training, creating a culture of positive attitudes and perceptions towards caregiving can enhance caregiver experiences and outcomes.
The younger generation knows that they are the caregivers of tomorrow. Do we want them to receive these roles with a sense of trepidation, dread and entrapment in their hearts? Or do we want our young caregivers to inherit their roles with optimism, hope and purpose?
In our attempts to advocate for and help those struggling, we may have neglected the voices of those who are flourishing. These voices are just as important — they are living proof that there is light, joy and fun to be experienced on the caregiving journey — and we need to let them shine.
For too long, the caregiving journey has been depicted solely as an arduous mountain to climb; yet there are certainly beautiful and invigorating views to take in along the way.
In learning more about caregivers’ positive experiences, we will not only find hope, but also understand how to help ourselves and others get there. We can and must shift from a culture of surviving to a culture of thriving and living well.
A caregiver’s journey often encompasses the last moments they have with their loved one. Beyond practical matters of care, there lies a sacredness and stark temporality to this journey. When mindful of this, the immensity of making this journey much more than just about ‘coping’ becomes apparent. The first step is to revitalise the caregiving story — that it is hard, but also enjoyable, meaningful and to many, a cherished privilege.
And perhaps, one day, in the near future, the natural response to this narrative would be: “Caregiving? Of course got fun!”
Written by: Geraldine Tan-Ho, Senior Counsellor and Research Fellow, Division of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University
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Original article source: Singapore Hospice Council