Wednesday, November 09, 2011

ghosts of caregiving past

What do a 19th Century stone mason, a painter, an engineer at a gunpowder plant, and a fireman have to do with National Family Caregiving Month? Probably not much - contrasted to their wives who gave birth to, raised, and kept house for families with an average of 7 children, long before disposable diapers or indoor plumbing.  

Yet without them I would not exist, these were my great grandparents. Born before the US Civil War some were immigrants, some from slave owning families, and some left home as teens to become ‘servants’. I’ve been stalking them with a 14 day free trial of However as spouse caregiving has dominated 36% of my life, eventually my eyes always look for clues.
“Caregiving is not new,” said Emily Abel, a professor at UCLA. “It has long been a normative experience in women’s lives.” In 19th century America it dominated their lives from “girlhood to old age”
21st Century statistics report women make up 66% of caregivers. While I may be ‘the 33%’ now it was not that way when it began over two decades ago. Statistically males represented 10% of caregivers around 1990 and damn lonely especially lacking any traditions, literature, and frankly head butting against societal perceptions of male and female roles and skills. Simultaneously I was juggling basically single parenting our then toddler daughter. Even popular culture at the time portrayed men as bumblers in maternal roles.

Back to the future, President Franklin Pierce vetoed health care reform legislation in 1854 arguing that the law violated states’ right position. We are STILL arguing over what we expect our federal and state governments to do about health care.

With medicine able to prolong life where previously terminal (injuries, accidents, illnesses, war wounds…) - disabled Americans were reintegrated into communities and wheelchairs appear. The first US patent for a wheelchair was granted in 1869.

Sometimes a glance backwards frames perspective and more importantly reenergizes the potential ahead.

Caregivingly Yours, Patrick Leer 
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  1. That must be interesting to learn about your greats, Patrick. Seems like an interesting bunch. It is true that caregiving has always been here and I'm sure always a tough thing to do. I wonder if it was a bit different with extended families close by to help as opposed to this day and age with families displaced, divorced, miles away from each other etc. There will never be any easy answers about care giving I am sure.


  2. I wonder if in the "olden days" caregiving was just part of living. I remember my great grandmother fell and broke her hip. She never walked again but there was never any question that she would live out her days with my grandmother and cared for by her. It was just a way of life.

  3. In pawing through old census data, I frequently find aged parents living with adult children and their family. Seems like it was just what happened. But then, a lot of extended family lived nearby. Not so much, anymore.

    Careful, Patrick. If you start Stalking Dead People, it can really suck you in!

  4. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

    zoomdoggies - I can see how stalking dead people can get addictive, thank goodness for 'free' 14 day limits. :)

    oklhdan - I suspect you've hit the nail on the head caregiving was just an extension of women's roles in pre Industrial Revolution society

    Betty - that whole extended families close by may be more myth than fact at least in the case of immigrant families and/or the migration of families in 19th Century US


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