Are we “Caregivers?” or “Care Partners?”

“Most people agree that the world would be a better place if we all cared more for one another, but despite that initial agreement we find it is hard to say exactly what we mean by caring.”   – Nel Noddings, Caring and Social Policy    

As an eldercare professional or family caregiver are you sometimes surprised by the amount of time you spend in the caregiving tasks?

Do you ever feel that the snack or meals to prepare, the hands to wash, the shower to give, the transferring into and out of bed or wheelchairs, the assistance with dressing, toileting, and eating, the medications to give, or the laundry to do is getting in the way of engaging in relationship with the person you are caring for?

  • What if we adopted a new way of thinking about care and incorporated it into the heart of our caring rituals?
  • What would our practice look like if we lifted-up the daily chores of caring as honorable rituals and essential caring practices in partnership with one another and the person we care for?
    Care is not a one-way street
    In a culture that typically views aging as a period of decline, I believe that no matter how old we are or what challenges we live with, life is about continuing to grow.  I work with Care Partners and elders and families.  From them, I  have learned that care is not a one-way street, but rather a collaborative partnership.  It warms my heart to see caregivers embracing their person-centered elder-directed roles as ‘Care Partners’ -as active participants in the balance of giving and receiving.  Together, care partner teams strive to enhance the well-being of both the person providing care and the person receiving care.  It is a partnership. It is a relationship.
Caring is not only a physical task. 

Caring requires understanding, relationship, and partnership. In routines such as washing and dressing, feeding and comforting, I have witnessed a transformation of daily caring rituals through care partnerships into opportunities for engaging, connecting and learning.  I have seen  Care Partners and Elders learning every moment the deepest lessons through the caring partnership.

If a person is receiving care and does not have the opportunity to give care or even have a say in his/her own care – they become helpless and hopeless.  In a care partner relationship, the elder adult is empowered. 

In the past, caring may have been viewed as a minimum standard of keeping an elder adult safe and clean, or as something ‘anyone’ could do.  

In the emerging future, care must be viewed as an intentional practice that connects us to one another, requires specialized knowledge about elders, about learning, and human development.  

  • Caring rituals are a science
  • Caring rituals are an art form.  
  • Caring rituals enhance the elder adult’s physical, spiritual, emotional and social well-being.
  • Caring rituals compel us to be intelligent, thinking, respectful, state-of-the-art-care partners.  
  • Caring rituals allow us to be partners in the caring relationship – empowering the vulnerable person to teach us how to care by listening, observing and partnering for that person’s well being as well as our own.

To care we must seek to know many things. We care with plans, purpose, objectives, and heart.

Families trust us with the care of the oldest citizens in our communities.  The caring rituals that elders and families seek from us have the potential to shape our unique identity as Care Partners.  

The best of our Senior Housing Communities become second homes of elders and their families and our care partners.  They receive comfort and confidence in joining us, teaching us, and partnering with us.

 As Milton Mayeroff said, “In the sense in which a man can ever be said to be at home in the world, he is at home not through domination, or explaining, or appreciating, but through caring and being cared for” (On Caring published 1971).  


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

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