Categorised in Good To Know
I recently interviewed Simon Brown, the legend who founded FamilyCarersNet, for my own blog. While speaking to Simon, he remarked that he wanted to set up a group of male carers who could meet up, have a drink and be social.
He suggested calling this group a “gaggle.” I thought it sounded like a marvellous idea and one that addressed quite a big problem among men, be they carers or otherwise.
The problem? Men can be dreadful at socialising. There’s all sorts of evidence proving men often have fewer social connections than women. Men can be particularly isolated if they have caring responsibilities. That includes fathers who are notoriously bad at keeping up with friends or making time to pursue interests outside the family home.
I’ll demonstrate my point with a powerful example. I want you to think for a moment about all the people you know who are in heterosexual relationships. Who in that relationship plays the role of a social secretary? I’ll put money on it being the woman, especially if it’s a long-term, well-established relationship or marriage.
Going back many years, I briefly worked for the charity Age Concern England. One piece of research work the charity carried out was fascinating.
It was a study of the impact on men when they were widowed. Age Concern England discovered a huge problem with widowed men being socially isolated because they had no social skills.
For decades these men had relied on their wives to organise social events. The man of the house just had to turn up when and where he was told. When the wife died, the man didn’t have the confidence to pick up the phone or arrange to meet friends or know how to make friends.
I took that research to heart. I looked around at the various couples I knew and I could see that pattern repeating itself. I vowed I would never let myself fall into that position.
More recently, I was involved with a charity project run by the charity Movember. The charity was looking to support projects that encouraged men to develop social connections.
Men with caring responsibilities, particularly fathers, were one of the target groups. If you think about the way the world works, you can see why there is a need for such projects.
Unlike women, men are not raised to be social. They’re raised to be tough, stoic and meant to handle their own problems. Women, meanwhile, are raised with different expectations. They are encouraged to be social and to caring is considered to be a female attribute (I don’t agree with any f this stuff by the way, I’m merely acknowledging the awkward truth about the world we live in).
When women become mothers, they have all manner of formal and informal support groups to rely on such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), Parentcraft, Mother’s Union and even the Women’s Institute.
If you have young children, take a moment to think about the school Facebook page or WhatsApp group. I’ll bet 99% of the interaction is between mums and dads barely get a look in.
It’s acceptable for women to call on friends for help. Men, however, are supposed to be strong and “man up” and when they seek help, it won’t necessarily be forthcoming.
If a man is the main carer for his children or is caring for his elderly parents or for a disabled spouse, it can be a lonely experience. If a man is in that position, he has a massive need to socialise, just as much as any female carer. He not only needs to blow off steam from time to time, but he might need a shoulder to cry on or some other emotional support.
A mum once told me she had about 25 mum friends on speed dial to call upon when she needed help. I was absolutely staggered by that confession. I could only dream of having that level of informal support from friends!
Speaking for myself, I sometimes find it a very lonely experience being the main carer for my two children. I don’t get invited to the coffee mornings organised by friends who met at NCT and, strangely, the Mother’s Union and Women’s Institute won’t have me.
Male carers need support and they need to support each other. This is why I think Simon’s idea of a gaggle of carers is a brilliant idea. I hope it’s a success and I will certainly join in when it gets off the ground.