Caregiving is a role most associated with women, but it is one that should not be generalized by gender. Attitudes toward traditional roles of medical assistant are evolving beyond a label that one position or another is ‘a woman’s job.’
Men increasingly feel more comfortable about performing tasks that historically were carried out by women. This has led to an increasing number of men becoming caregivers.
A report published by Pew Research Internet Project about U.S. caregivers says that 45 percent of caregivers in U.S. are male, and this figure is set to rise.
Generally, caregiving falls into four main categories:
- Physical: Cleaning, cooking, laundering of clothes, ironing, grocery shopping, gardening and running errands.
- Personal Care: Bathing, dressing and toileting
- Practical: Making doctor’s appointments and providing transport, managing finances
- Emotional Support: Providing companionship and compassion
Gender Not Important in Caregiving
When it comes to caregiving, gender should not be an important factor other than the fact some people might be more comfortable with one than another. It is not uncommon for a woman to want a female caregiver, for instance.
But men and women are equally capable of taking on tasks. Each however, has unique talents and strengths, and this will determine how they approach the role. Here are a few examples outlined in the Pew Research report:
- Attending to the personal needs of the patient: Women are rarely embarrassed when it comes to taking care of some of the more personal needs of someone else. Most are mothers and have fed, bathed and toileted their children until they were old enough to take care of themselves. Men on the other hand, tend to have less experience in this area. Some may feel uncomfortable about bathing and toileting their spouse or parent. Fortunately, paid assistance is available to help out in this area, and many men take advantage of this service.
- Caregivers in the workforce: Women are more known than men to leave the workforce to take on a caregiver role. Men are more likely to remain in the workforce and juggle any caregiving role around their work commitments.
- Approach to tasks: Women like to multitask. Men concentrate on one thing at a time, categorizing tasks into the order of most urgent and what can be left until another time.
- Asking for assistance: Women prefer to do most things themselves and will hesitate to ask for help. Men will delegate tasks to someone who is more suited to the job.
- Handling hard times: Women tend to be emotional when difficulties arise. Men tend to think more clearly under pressure and will often find a practical solution to the problem.
For the majority of people, caregiving is not a planned role. It comes about by chance, usually because of a family member’s illness, and it is taken on as an act of love.
Regardless of gender, few have sufficient training for this role and are ill-prepared for the emotional and physically strain that comes along with it. Added to this, there is no way of knowing the duration of the care. It may last several months or several years.
Over this time, the patient’s needs fluctuate and often escalate, which in turn places more responsibility on the caregiver.
Inevitably, a caregiver needs help. The sooner they reach out for it the better.
I learned this lesson when caring for my husband when he had mesothelioma. I was at first determined to do it on my own, but I came to welcome and appreciate the support of my family and friends. As a woman, I found it easy to talk to people about how I was feeling.
Men Less Likely to Share Their Emotions
Unlike women, who are usually open to sharing emotions, many men choose to keep their personal lives to themselves. They are hesitant to talk to anyone about their feelings.
Unfortunately, trait often leads to isolation. Facing the challenges and realities of caring for a loved one on their own is not a good strategy.
But all caregivers should understand that regardless of gender, they are not alone. Many men around the world are experiencing similar challenges and there is growing number of resources available to help them.
Online Support Groups for Men
The Internet is an invaluable resource for caregivers, providing a wealth of information plus the means for like-minded people to connect with each other through online forums.
Most forums are nongender specific, but there are a growing number of caregiver resources that are available for men only.
At the Male Caregiver Community, men who face similar challenges communicate with each other about a variety of topics and situations they encounter. There is a lot of give-and-take advice based on personal experience. Participants can remain anonymous, something that often helps them feel comfortable about sharing their emotions.
Once you become a member of the community, you can access an online library where you can find many articles and materials about caregiving.
Assisting Male Caregivers in Our Communities
There is much that needs to be done, to help male caregivers in our communities. Employers and legislators need to recognize the vital role men play in relieving the burden on our healthcare system.
Accordingly, working hours for men who are caregiving, as well as holding down a full-time job, should be flexible so that they can balance their work load with their caregiving responsibilities.
Assistance could also come from the media. While women are the focus of many worthy, caregiving stories, increased public awareness about male caregivers would aid in the growth of male caregiver assistance.
Regardless of gender, caregiving is a noble role and all care givers should be recognized and praised for the valuable and selfless work that they do.