This is my perspective. I do not speak for everyone in the field. I speak for myself. I speak on behalf of other professionals I have directly spoken to and what they see. I speak on behalf of the families who provide for other members who need support for one reason or another. To love someone unconditionally is to love, simply put, with no strings attached. To love without condition. I love you. Not, “I love you if…” or “I love you when…” but simply, “I love you because you exist, because you are you.” So many people who provide some degree of caretaking and caring for others, function from this locus.
Caretakers. The ones who are in the homes, every day, with the people they are caring for. These are the parents, grandparents, siblings, guardians of an individual who need caring for. For some, this is a small two-year-old who is becoming who they are, finding their voice, and taking the world in, learning an amazing number of things. They feel so much and may not quite have the vocabulary or self-control yet to express it. For other’s this is a teenager who is trying to navigate their next steps in life, going through hormonal changes, and being exposed to a number of things in the world that we were not exposed to in the same manner. For some this might mean caring for an aging parent who perhaps needs physical assistance and maybe experiencing decline in cognitive functioning. And then there are others, who are helping a loved one (young or old) who is developmentally delayed, sensory sensitive, neurodivergent, experiencing a number of mental or behavioral health issues, or perhaps a culmination of these things. Many times, when families come through my doors, they are tired, sometimes distressed, and even experiencing what we refer to as “caregiver burnout,” which is a state of physical, emotional, and/or mental exhaustion. Any level of caregiving is taxing. But when an individual is caring long-term for someone with long-term disabilities, this can oftentimes result in “caregiver burnout.” Sometimes, caregiver’s have supports (a significant other, relative, or support worker) who can assist them and give them respite in order to care for themselves. Other times, individuals may be caretaking solely by themselves. This may occur when family does not live close, when the person who needs caretaking needs are so great and the caretaker does not want to burden others, and at times this is due lack of insurance coverage for adequate supports for the individual or due to lack of insurance entirely.
Now, I challenge you to take a moment to think about what the last point might be like. Imagine needing to limit what outings you do because your loved one cannot tolerate noise or perhaps doesn’t understand safety and cannot be in places where they have access to frequently opening and closing doors. Imagine having a child, who is 14 and looks 14, but when they become upset, they cognitively process and behave closer to what a two-year-old would. Imagine having people confront you to “manage your child” or worry that people are thinking that when they stare at you when they are struggling to cope at a store that has become very overstimulating because it is so loud and there is so much motion happening. And then imagine that this occurs every day, to some degree. To love without condition. To want to protect your loved one by decreasing the negative experiences and limiting what sorts of activities they do. And perhaps preserving their own mental wellbeing, as a caretaker, by avoiding certain activities so they don’t have to manage a behavior, that at times, may last for hours and even days.
I challenge you to walk in kindness. Speak kindly to those you cross paths with. When you see a caregiver who has an upset child or young person, remind yourself that perhaps they are going through more than you can visually see. When you see a parent being patient or working through a behavior, tell them they are doing a great job. If you have the chance to advocate for better supports and coverage by insurance, do so. If you are the friend of a caretaker and you can offer to help, even to allow that person a 5-minute break, do so. Most importantly, remember that we are all human. We all have our limits. But to walk in kindness, means to walk in love. And while caretaker’s love unconditionally, they too, need to understand that they are loved, without condition.
Kari A. Wold, MA, LMLP