by the Rev. Peter K. Stimpson
QUESTION: I play golf with a buddy of mine who is caring for his wife who had a stroke. It occurred to me that usually it is the other way around. Is it unusual for men to be caregivers?
ANSWER: Not any more. In the 20th century, a man’s role was to work to support his family, his wife providing nurturing to children and aging parents. If a man were to be pulled into caregiving, it was to arrange for home health aides or visiting nurses, or at most running to the pharmacy or bringing his wife to her doctor’s appointments.
But today, many factors have changed. Role reversals are more common with men caring for children and women taking over a much larger percentage of the work force. Children are moving further away from home due to our mobile society, hence being less available to help. And there are simply more aging parents, as baby boomers (1946-1964) are retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day!
Therefore, not only do we need to realize that there are more male caregivers, but to also focus more on their needs. The male stereotype defines men as confident, doing rather than feeling, always accomplishing tasks, but rarely discussing feelings. And men tend to have more acquaintances than deep friendships, it thereby being harder to unload their feelings. Hence, when confronted like your friend with a spouse who has a chronic, debilitating disease, coping is hard, perhaps relegated to holding it in or toughing it out, both leading to feeling alone, frustrated, and depressed.
We need to help men like your buddy by having him tell us what he is doing, which serves as a natural segue into how he must be feeling. But we cannot stop there. We also need to offer a safety net of friends, who can not only help him with chores, but also offer respite care so that he can go out to dinner or play golf. Friends can also teach him simple skills like how to cook, clean, and do laundry. And they can encourage him to take better care of himself by eating well, limiting his alcohol use, exercising and getting a good night’s sleep. They can also encourage his family to call often if they are at a distance, helping him feel loved and appreciated. And joining a support group would really help the feeling of being so alone and teach him more coping skills.
I shall be offering a presentation titled Men Do Care on Saturday, January 12, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Princeton Senior Resource Center at 45 Stockton Street. It will then be followed by a new “Men Do Care Support Group,” which will meet weekly on Monday evenings from 6 to 7:30 p.m. starting on January 28. The program is co-sponsored by the PSRC and TCS, and made possible due to a grant from the Sally Foss and James Scott Hill Foundation. Register at 609-924-7108. No charge!