Facing the challenge of being open about being a carer

Opening up about being a carer is not something people should be expected to do, however beneficial the results, says Blair McPherson.

Credit: Voisin/Phanie/Rex Features
Credit: Voisin/Phanie/Rex Features

By Blair McPherson

It was a conference for our staff who were also carers. The idea was to identify those members of staff who cared for a family member or relative and enlist their support in coming up with ways we could be a better employer.

To date people had been reluctant to identify themselves as carers. In general people kept quiet.

They didn’t mention it at interview for fear that it would be assumed they would be taking time off to look after the person and they didn’t mention it once in post for fear they would be considered less flexible than staff who did not have caring responsibilities.

We thought that if could get them to the conference then we would have a list of names and could start discussions on the value of a registrar of carers.

We were taken by surprise at the number of people who put their names forward to attend. So we booked a bigger venue and ran two conferences – one in the morning and the other on the same day in the afternoon. My role as director was to open the conference.

I had planned my opening remarks but only decided to talk about my dad when the conference organiser suggested some thing personal would encourage people to be more open in the workshops.

My dad was in my mind because I had visited him the previous Sunday.

My brother who lives much nearer had telephoned to tell me that on a recent visit the neighbours had button holed him to express concern, some tale about him climbing up a ladder to paint the eves. My dad was 81 at the time, lived on his own and had always been a little eccentric, very independent with the potential to be awkward.

Once I started it wasn’t difficult to recount stories of what my dad had got up to. I told the story about him forgetting he had withdrawn money from his Post Office account and conducting a sit in protest that resulted in two burly police officers frog marching him out. It must have been an amusing sight and certainly made for a funny story.

But of course it is not that funny if your the son dealing with complaints from the Post Office manager who has banned your father or the police contacting you asking if you are aware of his behaviour, both asking what you are going to do about it and you knowing there is not much you can do especially as your dad denies it ever happened.

Encouraged by the audience response I talked about his recent forgetfulness, his issues with money and his conspiracy theories but mostly how his behaviour was causing more concern and creating tension in the family.

My two brothers who lived close by felt the pressure, one had his persistent offers of help rejected as interfering and so he was backing off. There was a difference of views about how best to handle dad and how concerned we should be.

Feedback from the workshops was very positive people had really opened up in the discussions. The organiser was very enthusiastic and the morning conference ended on a very positive note.

After lunch the conference organiser approached me to say she hoped I would open the second conference in the same way. But I couldn’t.

I hadn’t realised how emotionally spent I was after the first session. When the adrenaline stopped I was drained.

I didn’t feel that I could talk about my dad again, it wouldn’t feel right, it would somehow be insincere to repeat what I had sad that morning. So I didn’t and it was all a bit flat.

The feedback from the workshops was that people in the afternoon were nowhere near as open or forthcoming about their experiences. I could tell the conference organiser was disappointed but she said she understood.

What I realised was that you can’t expect people to just open up about caring for some one close to them and having opened up they can’t be expected to do it every time just because their is a new audience or a new professional who wants to help.

Blair McPherson is an author and commentator on health and social care.

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One Response to Facing the challenge of being open about being a carer

  1. Angus Skinner March 11, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this.
    It makes very salutary reading. We have known for decades that the social care workforce includes a greta many people who are also cares in their private lives (as I am myself). It is worrying though perhaps not surprising if people feel reluctant to be open about this. It shows how far we have to go in building sustainable care for the future.

    Kind regards
    Angus Skinner