Because They Would Do The Work Anyway

Leslie Kaufman had an interesting article about caregivers in the New York Times last week. It explored the special care that a caregiver who is related to her charge can provide. According to one such caregiver, Tracy Keil, she* can help her charges who don’t want “just a baby sitter” to live as they would like to live, to “get out and about, go grocery shopping or see a movie.”

Mrs. Keil quit her lucrative accountant job to stay home, and she wants to be “compensated” for what is now her “full-time job” of caregiving. “She sees it not only as a battle about income but also about dignity and respect.” She’s never regretted leaving her paying job, she enjoys her new role, and she’s confident in her competence, but she worries about the financial repercussions of working for nothing.

There’s a growing group of caregivers who are lobbying to not be taken advantage of anymore. Advocates for these caregivers suspect that the government does not pay them (so far) because “they know they would do the work anyway.”

Have you guessed who the charges are?

All of the issues in the article could apply to a stay-at-home mom caring for her kids, but instead it’s about soldiers who come home from war in need of full-time care. In many cases the health aides paid for by the government provide unacceptable care, so many wives of soldiers have quit their jobs to care for their loved ones themselves.

I don’t want to make light of the atrocities of war that render grown men and women in need of full-time caregivers. And, of course, the least we could do as a grateful nation is facilitate our veterans’ return to living to their full capacity.

But.

How come we don’t talk about mother-caregivers in similar terms? I’m not saying I’d like the government to pay me for being a mother, though I do find it appealing when Nora Roberts has characters choosing to accept the “professional mother stipend” in her futuristic Eve Dallas crime books.

I’ve pointed out before that the Child Care Tax Credit is unfairly preferential to working mothers (and fathers) who pay non-relatives to care for children.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about “compensating” (or at least not punishing in the tax code) mother-caregivers? After all, it’s not just a matter of income, but of “dignity and respect.”

Also, why weren’t there protests about this betrayal of feminist ideology — this suggestion that people are happier when cared for by a relative rather than a paid aide or in an institutionalized setting? Shouldn’t someone warn these women of all they are giving up and how they are setting feminism back by settling for a mere caregiver role?

Jane

*I’m not saying a man can’t be a caregiver, but all of the examples in this article were female.