Published by Nicki Hayes

Categorised in Good To Know

Anyone who is, has been, works with or knows an unpaid family carer is only too familiar with that moment when a person in a caring role pauses, takes a deep breath, and says something along the lines of:

“Carer? Am I a carer?”

It is certainly a strong theme in a wonderfully resonant, perfectly named book released this summer: Tender, The Imperfect Art of Caring, by Penny Wincer.

Why ‘the imperfect art’ of caring?

I say perfectly named because, if you have ever been in an unpaid family carers role in your life, whether you realised it or not, you can’t help but read that title and feel seen, heard and recognised.

If you haven’t been in that role yet, you may well be at some point in your life because three in five of us are, then let me explain in Penny’s word’s, extracted from a powerful interview on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in June (fast forward to 31.23 seconds if you click through to this link by the way):

“Imperfect was important as I didn’t want anyone to think this book is about getting it right. There’s no way to get caring right, but there’s a lot of conversations we can have around caring. The art because it’s exactly that, there’s no one way of doing it.”

Unpaid family carers share experiences and can learn from each other

Penny has been a carer twice in her life. Once, as a teenager, for her mum, who suffered with severe depression. Then again as a single mum in adulthood, for her son, who has autism. Realising that she could take lessons learnt from caring for her mother across to caring for her son was one revelation that fed the need to create this book.

Creating it involved interviewing many carers in multiple countries, whose stories Penny interweaves with her own, whilst informing and connecting each with narrative around the patterns these experiences reveal.

In weaving the narrative in this way, Penny pulls out and tenderly explores themes, including: why it’s so hard to talk about caring; perfectionism; ableism; expectations; grief; self-care; community; purpose and joy. I’ll explore each of these in future blogs.

Today, I’ll end on the key message I took away from this beautiful book.

We need to reclaim the word carer…

When Penny first approached carers during the research stage of this book, so many came back with “I’m not a carer.” The discomfort which people feel with this word is something that she explores brilliantly. Her analysis hits home, for me at least.

“So many were really uncomfortable with the word and I really wanted to have a look at that. I think like so much unpaid work, caring is really low status, so it’s not really a word we want to be associating ourselves with.

“But I think, more than that , it reflects how we feel about disability in society. I think disability is still very much looked at as just about the worst thing that can happen to you. And it’s also very hidden in society and I think it can be very difficult to use the word carer, but I think also, the word carer feels very uni-directional, as in, one interviewee said to me ‘it makes me feel like people think my child is a bit dim and I’m the rescuer’. “

It is time to take pride in the word ‘carer’

Like Penny, Family Carers Net believes that society as a whole needs to start thinking differently about disability and caring. Disability is a very natural part of life. It’s a common everyday experience, as is caring for someone with a disability. We shouldn’t disparage the word so much. And now that Covid-19 is bringing more awareness to the important role of caring, well, now is the time to own it.

About which – more soon.