Caring is surely one of the most natural things for a human being to do, unless your early years were so bad that you became a psychopath.
So why are we no longer caring for our babies and our elderly parents ourselves?Why are we no longer caring for our babies and our elderly parents ourselves? Click To Tweet
Why are we no longer caring for our own flesh and blood but instead, are paying others to do it for us?
Recently, my own parents needed caring for 24/7 during a health crisis.
My sister and I knew the crisis would probably pass, and it did.
However, during the seven weeks we spent taking turns living at their house, I lost count of the number of people who said to me:
“Gosh, you are good, I couldn't do that.”
Say what? You couldn't look after your own parents if they needed you?
Obviously, when people have diseases that make it very difficult to for families to do the caring, then professionals have to take over.
But when the issues are about mobility and needing a helping hand in the winter of their lives, our parents surely deserve the comfort of their own family doing the caring as far as humanly possible.
When I was a child, it was common for the elders of the family to be supported by the younger members of the family into old age.
Both of my Grandmothers lived out their final years being attended to by their children, (my parents, aunts and uncles).
One of my grandmothers remained in her own home into her 80s and was watched over by my Aunty and Uncle who lived around the corner.
My parents also visited regularly throughout the week and into the weekend.
I have very happy memories of walking, with my mother, the 2 miles from our house to my grandmother's house before I started school.
That is how I learned about caring - by seeing how much time and attention were given to the elders in my family.
My Grandad was alive then but after he died, the family rallied round to care for my Grandma and did so until she died.
I was grown up and living abroad by the time she died, but was very aware that the family was looking after her really well. She never spent long periods alone and never had to worry about dealing with emergencies because there was always someone there to sort it out.
My other Grandma died when I was almost five and I can vividly recall how she was cared for by my Aunty at her house.
The day she died, I had been to town with my mother to collect some supplies from the St John's Ambulance HQ. My Grandma needed a special cup with a feeding spout to help her eat and she also needed a waterproof sheet in her bed.
When we returned on the bus with these things, I will never forget my Aunty opening the door and telling my mother that my Grandma had 'gone'.
I gradually realised what that meant as the family gathered to deal with her death.
My whole attitude to how we deal with our elders has been coloured by those experiences.
They were part of the family and no one would ever have considerered getting strangers in during what were probably very frightening and confusing times for both my Grandmas.
Maybe other people did but I didn't know of any. All my friends seemed to have very caring families doing the same thing. It was all very natural.
There were 'old people's homes' run by the local authority but I never knew anyone who had relatives in them.
Some were ok but others were dreary institutions, full of elderly people who maybe had no children or, who had children that were unable to do the caring for whatever reason.
On the whole, back in those days, my experience was that people stayed in their own homes being supported by local family or, they moved in with family until they died.
Then we come to caring at the other end of the spectrum - babies.
When my sister and I were born, it was the norm to have a mother who stayed at home to look after us.
Mothers who worked were in the minority in the working class town where I grew up.
My mother left her job in the 1950s to have my older sister and remained a 'stay at home mum/mom' throughout our childhoods.
She never did return to the workplace and when I returned from abroad with two children of my own, she was very happy to look after them during school holidays while I worked.
I tried various other options, even having a couple of people live-in, but after coming home unexpectedly one day to find the baby-sitter screaming her head off at my three year old son, I thought better of it and asked her to leave.
Provided you come from a stable loving family, no baby-sitter is going to love your child as much as a grandparent and so I was very lucky that my mum was available to help out.
Everything was about family back then. We looked after our own. If my family was not able to help, I would not have worked until my children started junior school.
Even the best carers in the world cannot possibly have the bond that we or grandparents and Aunties have with our babies or elders.
So why are we farming those two groups out to strangers to do the caring for us?
When my boys were born back in the 80s, wild horses could not have dragged me away from them for the first three years of their lives. And because of that, we were financially poor.
We relied on one income and money was tight. We had a mortagage on our ramshackle old house, which was paid every month without fail.
We were warm, fed and clothed.
The house was tired and needed updating but we could only afford to get all the structural stuff seen to. The cosmetic refurb did not happen until the kids were grown and I wanted to sell the house.
But that is no longer enough for today's world. We now want perfect houses like show homes, ready to move into.
We want holidays abroad so little Tarquin can learn to ski at age three.
So we shove Tarquin into a nursery at a few months old so we can get out there and earn the money we need to keep up with the perfect families on the DFS sofa adverts.
Tarquin has clothes from Baby Gap, toys from Hamley's and emotions he may never understand.Tarquin has clothes from Baby Gap, toys from Hamley's and emotions he may never understand. Click To Tweet
The tables have turned now. The stigma is on stay at home mums/moms.
This was graphically illustrated to me when a young mum I worked with was having horrific problems with stress.
Both her babies went to nursery at one year old so she could return to work after maternity leave.
She had struggled with the gruelling routine of getting sleepy babies up at the crack of dawn, regardless of the kind of night they'd had, getting them to nursery in time for her work start time.
She had done this with her first baby and then had to go through it all again when baby number two came along.
I can't even contemplate what it was like dealing with the logistics of getting a one year old baby up and fed while dealing with a cranky toddler at the same time.
And all with a deadline of 8.30 every day.
It is hard enough dealing with getting up and out of the house as an adult when you fully understand why you are doing it but for babies with other ideas about what they want, it must be pure hell.
Eventually she couldn't cope and wanted to leave work to simply look after her babies herself. She then found she was faced with a horrified reaction from the other working mums around her who could not believe she was going to be a stay at home mum/mom.
It was very hard for her to do this because society was now frowning upon mothers who did not go to work and she agonised over her decision because she did not want to appear 'lazy' or have a gap in her cv.
She believed having a gap because of staying at home with her own children would look bad. Ironically, she was a teacher specialising in children with emotional issues.
This young mum was afraid of society's reaction to her caring for her own babies.
A few years back, when I was studying for qualifications in SEBD (Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties), I was fortunate enough to attend lectures by US psychologists Dr. Dan Hughes and Dr. Margot Sunderland and also by Sir Richard Bowlby, the son of the eminent British psychiatrist/psychoanalyst Sir John Bowlby.
All these people are internationally respected names in the field of human psychology and what I learned from them about the early development of stable mental health has enabled me to understand why our society is so screwed up, with no improvement in sight.
Stable mental health has its roots in the first two years of life, particularly the babe-in-arms phase but definitely during the whole pre-verbal phase when we are not able to reason emotional pain or physical discomfort out in our heads because we have no language with which to do it.
Sir John Bowlby pioneered the Theory of Attachment (which has been bastardised in recent years by some people who clearly do not understand Sir John Bowlby's teachings).
Sadly, he is no longer with us however, his son, Sir Richard Bowlby is so passionate about his father's groundbreaking work, he continues to educate people about the importance of the first two years of life.
He continues to work in the field of mental health and information about him can be found here.
When I last saw him, he was talking about the dangers of the mass institutionalisation of young babies in nurseries.
You may say, what can these 'toffs', with their grand titles, (Sir John – Sir Richard) teach us working class folk who do not have millions in the bank and therefore have to work for a living.
The answer is A LOT. It was Sir John Bowlby's own experience with having attachment issues that lead him to devote his life to trying to understand the mother/child bond (attachment) and what happens to a human on a psychological level when that bond is weak, changeable or nonexistent.
When I say mother/child bond, I mean the main caregiver/child bond because it does not have to be the mother. As long as the main caregiver is consistent, loving, caring and totally committed to the baby, it appears not to matter who it is, according to what I have been taught.
And it is not just the working class who inadvertently neglect their children. By neglect, I don't mean physical starvation, lack of hygiene or dirty, unsuitable clothes.
I mean emotional neglect. The innate expectancies of newborn humans go far beyond needing to be warm and fed according to those who have studied such needs
Author Jean Liedloff gave us a huge insight into human need in her 1970s book, The Continuum Concept.
This book, although it was never meant as a parenting guide, is one of the best I have ever read about how to parent our babies. Although I did read it while I was pregnant with my first child, I wish I had studied it way before I even became pregnant.
The book makes sense of Sir John Bowlby's theories if you apply them to what is discussed in Jean Liedloff's book.
Every potential parent should read the Continuum Concept and forget everything else they have ever been 'taught' about how to raise human infants.
Sir John Bowlby focussed on the need for stable human attachments. And of course, unstable human attachments are just as rife in the social class he came from as they are in working class and amongst poorer, more disadvantaged people.
In my opinion, the upper classes are as guilty, if not more guilty than the working classes of emotional neglect because they typically use hired help to look after their children.
And hired help tends to leave whenever it suits them which, according to his son, is why Sir John Bowlby suffered broken attachments as a child.
I have been to three lectures by Sir Richard Bowlby and have never heard anyone speak with the passion that he does when talking about his father's work.
Having said that, both Dr. Margot Sunderland and Dr. Dan Hughes are human psychology and psychoanalytical professionals who also speak with great authority and passion about the mental health of babies and children.
Sir Richard is not a psychologist. He was a medical and scientific photographer until he retired and took up studying his father's work.
The last time I heard Sir Richard speak, the trend towards mass daycare for babies was gathering pace and he was warning of the dire consequences it would have.
And many years before that, the council run care homes for the elderly were being shut down, paving the way for mass private care of the elderly – at a huge financial cost.
The dreary old subsidised care homes have now been replaced by private, hotel style residential homes that cost an absolute fortune to live in.
In my lifetime, I have seen care of the very young and the very old snatched from the hands of families and turned into very lucrative businesses.
So of course, the notion of caring for our own elders or babies at home has been given a bad press and deliberately stigmatised.
We have all been brainwashed into believing 'professional' care of our loved ones is the only way to go. I see it all around me, far fewer people are looking after their own babies or elderly parents than when I was a child.
Which is why people are saying to me “oh you are good.”
No – I'm NOT! That's what human being used to do until businessmen opened expensive daycare facilities for babies and luxurious care homes for the elderly.
And they want customers, so guess what, they made us believe doing it any other way is BAD.
The economy has been directed in such a way that the cost of living makes it seem extremely hard to live on one wage.
Afterall, having a million TV channels to watch on that massive flat screen TV you must have has got to be paid for.
Before you jump on me and tell me I don't understand, we had nothing when my children were very young, but I was there looking after them and walks by the sea are free.
In the last thirty years, private care homes for the elderly have been springing up all over the place and are now occupied by the many people who Maggie Thatcher turned into homeowners when she sold off all the social housing during her years as Prime Minister.
Which is a stroke of luck really because the wealthy care home owners can take all that lovely equity from the homes these people bought and make wads of money out of their shiny new care homes where you have everything around you...except the people you love.
There are people out there with a vested interest in stigmatising family caring to the point where no one expects it to happen any more.
So young people are quite happy to abdicate all responsibility for their older parents in just the same way they are happy to hand over care of their babies and toddlers to strangers earning minimum wage.
At 60 years of age, having lived through the days when caring for your own was the norm, I find the whole modern landscape of caring very depressing.
I am sure that any mums/moms reading this who have put or are going to put their babies into daycare will get defensive and leap all over this.
They will give me a million reasons why I am wrong and should mind my own business.
Well it is my business because I have to live in a world where many of the middle-class nursery babies are now being as much of a problem in the world as more obviously neglected children from lower income families (that is NOT to say that low income equals neglected children – it doesn't. However, it's them that get picked on because the upper classes hide their neglect in boarding schools.)
I am astounded at how many hard, selfish, unhappy children there are out there who push their way round adults who are 'in their way' without a second thought and act as if the world belongs to only them. The words 'excuse me' are rarely heard from middle-class kids if we happen to be standing in their way.
Is it because they have had to survive in a room full of needy babies from a young age?
Is it because being 'taught' manners in a nursery by an 18 year old is not as powerful as having respectful behaviour modeled for you on a daily basis by your omnipotent mother?
There are so many rude, unruly middle class kids out there now with no manners, it is truly disturbing.
And yes, of course I know there are many lovely, well-mannered children too but my point is, the rude sort are on the rise and I am wondering why.
Whenever I meet a child who is caring, well mannered and respectful towards others, they stand out because they are SO different to the majority.
We keep hearing that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the UK is unable to cope with the demand for services and there are growing numbers of children from 'nice families' with mental health problems.
Why? There must be a reason why this is happening.
The suicide rate, especially in young men aged between 16 and 25 is sky high and shows no signs of slowing.
We also regularly hear about the vast number of lonely elderly people who are literally dying of loneliness.
Even those in care homes are affected.
What has gone wrong in our society that the most vulnerable people, the young and old, are increasingly being cared for in nurseries and care homes?
Maybe, just maybe, we need to stop bombarding our young people with images and messages about the perfect home, the perfect car and holidays abroad and go back to the times when people were more important than things.
If you are too busy working to look after your baby yourself you are sending a very powerful message to that child if you pay strangers to look after him.
When the day comes that you need care, he will know exactly what to do.
When people went without material possessions and appreciated a more rich family life, children were more respectful of elders – at least they were in my family and in the families of my friends at the time.
So don't tell me how 'good' I am for taking care of my parents – that is what decent human beings do unless the needs are so great that they can't.
There are many people who really have no choice about day care for babies or care homes for elders - those are not the people I am thinking of when I ask what is going wrong with our world - those people need more support themselves in a world that seems to care only about money.
And no, I am not advocating a move back to the days when women were oppressed and spent all day baking while wearing a pretty apron.
Of course we should have careers BUT we do need to think of the rights of babies to have a start in life that nurtures good mental health.
Is it really so hard to take two or three years out of your working life to do that? Are our material possessions more important than mentally healthy humans?
And when it comes to elder care, yes it is hard - very hard and I am thankful I am able to do it. Not everyone can. All I am saying is, we need to think long and hard about our reasons for not looking after our own parents if we are in a position to but, choose not to.
Thank you to pretty fly for a white mum for inspiring me to write this and don't ever stop being the caring mum you clearly are!
What is your position on caring for your own – scroll down to 'leave a reply' and talk to me!