The Male Carer

The Male Carer

In the realm of caring, the spotlight often shines on women, but it’s crucial to acknowledge the significant contributions of the male carer, particularly in a country like Australia.

While traditional gender roles might suggest otherwise, the landscape of caring is evolving, and men play an increasingly vital role in providing care and support to their loved ones.

Research by Carers Australia show that a higher proportion of women (68.2 per cent) provide primary care than men (31.8 per cent), non-primary care is evenly divided between men and women, proving that men play a significant role in the landscape of caring in Australia.

Australia’s aging population, combined with shifting family structures and societal changes, has led to a growing number of male carers across the nation. Additional research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows that approximately 36% of primary carers in Australia are male. These men are spouses, sons, fathers, brothers, and friends, dedicating their time and energy to support individuals with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or age-related conditions.

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One of the primary reasons behind the increasing presence of male carers is the changing dynamics within families. With more women entering the workforce and families becoming more diverse, the responsibility of caring is often shared among family members, regardless of gender. Men are stepping into caring roles not out of obligation, but out of love and a sense of duty towards their families.

Contrary to stereotypes, male carers bring unique strengths and perspectives to the caring journey. Their approach to caring is often characterized by pragmatism, problem-solving skills, and a focus on practical solutions. While emotional support is essential, male carers are adept at addressing the practical aspects of caring, such as managing finances, coordinating medical appointments, and handling household chores.

Moreover, male carers serve as positive role models, challenging traditional notions of masculinity and nurturing. By actively participating in caring activities, they demonstrate compassion, empathy, and resilience, traits that are essential for building strong and supportive communities. Their presence also helps break down gender stereotypes, promoting inclusivity and diversity in the caring landscape.

However, despite their invaluable contributions, male carers in Australia often face unique challenges and barriers. Social stigma and outdated gender norms may discourage men from openly embracing their caring role or seeking support when needed. The lack of awareness and recognition of male carers’ experiences can also lead to feelings of isolation and invisibility.

To address these challenges, it’s essential to foster a culture of inclusivity and support for male carers. This includes raising awareness about the diverse experiences of male carers, providing access to tailored support services, and promoting positive representations of male caring in the media and society. By acknowledging and celebrating the role of male carers, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all carers in Australia.

Furthermore, policymakers and healthcare professionals play a crucial role in recognizing and supporting male carers. By implementing policies that acknowledge the diverse needs of carers and providing targeted support programs, we can ensure that male carers receive the recognition, respect, and assistance they deserve.

For the winter edition of Australian Carers Guide, we wanted to highlight the role of male carers in Australia, so we  spoke to three different carers, to find out more about their caring journey – from the challenges to the rewards they reap – both personal and professional.

Paul, Victoria

Before stepping into the role of a carer, Paul’s life was vastly different. He lived in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne, fully engrossed in his career as a General Manager for a publication company. Being single, I dedicated most of my time to my professional endeavours. “The transition to becoming a carer was gradual,” says Paul. “After my father passed away, I assumed the responsibility of caring for my mother. Balancing caring with my career initially posed challenges, but as her health declined, I adjusted my work-life balance to prioritize her needs. Supported by my family members, I was fortunate to continue working while being a part-time carer for my mother.”

Can you tell me a bit about life before you became a carer?

I resided in the outer Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I was working full time as a general manager for a publication company, and as a single man, I was in the position to put most of my time into my career.

Who do you now care for, and how long have you been caring for them? Can you tell me how you transitioned from non-carer to carer?

I cared for my mother after my father had passed. The transition from being a non-carer to a carer was gradual, with me being able to care for her, while balancing my career. As she became less independent and her health declined, I needed to make a shift with my work/life balance to allow for the best care of her.

Are you a full- or part-time carer?

With the support of my other family members, I was fortunate to continue working whilst being a part-time carer.

How was the decision made that you would become a carer?

My family had always been close and good family values was something we all believed in. We came together as one to discuss the best options for my mother and how we could all help, whether it be big or small. By working together, we were able to offer my mother the support she needed.

What have been the biggest highlights of your caring experience?

Among the many experiences of caring, several moments stand out as significant highlights. These include the deepening of our emotional connection, the shared joy amidst challenging times, and the profound sense of fulfilment derived from being there for my mother in her time of need.

What have you found the hardest about caring for a loved one?

While caring for a loved one is deeply rewarding, it does come with its share of challenges. The hardest aspect for me was witnessing my mother grapple with her health issues, and decline in independence, and the associated physical and emotional toll it takes on both of us. Balancing caring duties with personal responsibilities can also be demanding.

Was there anything you wished you had known when you first started caring for your mother?

I wish I had been better prepared for some aspects of the role. Understanding the range of available resources, navigating the healthcare system, and managing carer burnout are areas where I wished I knew more about. I wish the Australian Carers Guide was around when I first became a carer. It would have made my journey a lot easier.

What advice would you give someone new to caring?

For someone embarking on the path of caring, I would offer the following advice: prioritise self-care to maintain your own well-being, seek out support networks and resources available in your community, and above all, embrace each moment with compassion, patience, and love. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help when needed, and your role as a carer is invaluable.

Male Carer

Mark, Melbourne

Before embracing the role of a carer, Mark’s life was typical of a social worker, married with a young family. However, everything changed when his aging mother’s health started deteriorating, leading his family to make the decision to move in with her. “Despite the challenges of balancing work and family life, we managed to create a supportive environment for my mother, even amidst cultural and linguistic differences,” he said.

Can you tell me a bit about life before you became a carer?

I was a social worker married with a young family when my mother – then in her late 70s – became frailer both physically and mentally. After a short time we decided to move in with her, and built an extension to her house. It wasn’t easy, especially for my wife, as there was a huge language and cultural difference. We did manage to continue working and getting carers in was also a great help, though my mother refused initially.

Who do you now care for, and how long have you been caring for them?

My mother died at home, but we had spent 10 years living with and caring for her. The transition was rather sudden in that it ‘officially’ started when we moved in. Before that, we didn’t really regard ourselves as ‘carers’.  When my dad needed caring for, there was no choice, as it was clear that my mother needed as much support as she could get. My father was 70 when we began caring for him, (died at 75) and my mother was 67 (died aged 86).

Are you a full- or part-time carer?

You can say that we were full-time carers with my mother but part-time carers with my father. However, it’s pretty meaningless to think of caring in such terms; as whatever you might be doing physically, emotionally your mind will be on caring and thinking about caring 24/7.

How was the decision made that you would become a carer?

There simply was no-one else. My only brother lived overseas, and my mother and father were both absolutely determined not to go into a home, so in that sense, as it is for so many carers who love those whom they are caring for, it was our duty and responsibility to do everything we could to look after our loved ones.

What have been the biggest highlights of your caring experience?

The highlights were really around the strengthening of relationships with my parents. It was an opportunity, in my case, for my father, to understand me better and for us to get much closer emotionally.  With my mother too, we got even closer and I cannot describe the feeling of privilege to know that I was able to be there for my parents and try to make up at least a little for their horrendous losses and grief and suffering as Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

What have you found the hardest about caring for a loved one?

The impact on my family, the stress of constantly having to prioritise my parents over my family and sometimes even over work. It was one thing dedicating my life to caring for my parents but another to impose the caring role on my wife. My wife was a tremendous support, but always having to prioritise my parents over my wife and even over my children certainly took its toll on our relationship. It was a situation of constant stress and preoccupation. Many of my friends and some family didn’t fully understand what pressures we were under as carers.

Was there anything you wished you had known when you first started caring for a loved one?

Many carers don’t know what they’ve signed up for when they begin their caring journey. For instance, I had no idea that my mother would live for another 10 years. I honestly thought it would be for a much a shorter time. I was aware of support groups, but I didn’t think I needed one. Looking back, it would have been really helpful had I joined one.

In fact, I went on to run a men’s carer group for over 10 years, but that was well after my mother died. I’m sure that this was because of my experience as a carer.

What advice would you give someone new to caring?

Firstly, I would say go in with your eyes wide open. Find out as much as you can about caring – about the medical and disability issues involved, all the resources including individual counselling, support groups, carer services and entitlements. Build a team around you and include as many people as you can: family, friends, neighbours, professionals allied health, medical and nursing staff, carers. Create a circle of support. Do not bear the caring role alone and share as many of the of the tasks as you can. Find ways of communicating as best you can with your loved one but also with those around you. Express your feelings and find your voice and share with those close to you and with a counsellor who you can talk with in a safe and confidential way. Remember that at some point your caring role will end. It sometimes seems like it will be forever, and this in itself is a huge stress.

George, Toowoomba

From his career as a deputy CEO to his role as a national carer advocate, George’s life took a profound turn when he became the primary carer for his mother, who battles Lewy Body Dementia (LBD).

George’s life before caring was marked by constant movement and diverse pursuits. Born to Polish parents in England, his family’s nomadic lifestyle eventually led them to settle in Queensland. Despite grappling with his own health challenges, including an inoperable brain tumour and almost profound deafness, George pursued a successful career and established himself as an avid writer and advocate.

Can you tell me a bit about life before you became a carer?

I was born in England to emigrant and exiled Polish parents, who – because of what they and their families went through during the Second World War – constantly moved about like desert nomads.

I currently live in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs in Queensland with my mother.

I am on the Disability Support Pension (DSP) because I have an extremely rare genetic disorder (Pallister-Hall Syndrome), an inoperable brain tumour, a spinal tumour, mental health issues, and am almost profoundly deaf, together with a myriad of other medical problems.

My last employ was as the deputy CEO of an Aboriginal Native Title Body in Central Queensland. An avid writer I’ve had books and various works published in Australia and around-the-world.

Who do you now care for, and how long have you been caring for them?

For the last 12 years I’ve been the primary carer of my mother, who has Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) and is in declining physical health with severe mobility issues, chronic health conditions and numerous ailments.

Before my father passed away, I was the part-time carer of both parents. Looking after a parent is one thing, but when a male child has to look after one’s mother there is a lot to contemplate; the primary considerations being privacy, modesty and embarrassment – need I say more?

Are you a full or part time carer?

I’m the full-time carer of an aged parent and a national carer advocate. I’m also the author and protagonist of the Time to Recognise and Care for Unpaid Carers! national petition hosted by Change.org.

The petition calls on the Federal Government to properly recognise, respect, and remunerate carers; especially those only in receipt of a Carer Allowance who need immediate, realistic and proper financial recognition for their unrequited efforts in underpinning Australia’s aged care, health and disability sectors.

How was the decision made that you would become a carer?

After my father passed away, caring for my mother was a natural progression; there were shoes to fill and I was living with her, so I guess it was convenient for both of us. Then after some time it seemed more like an obligation.

What have been the biggest highlights of your caring experience?

I would have to state quite emphatically with the positive experiences there are many strains, challenges, and trials.

Albeit there is the sense and pride in giving back to the parents who raised and cared for me, the satisfaction of knowing that I am giving 110% to the care of my mother and keeping her out of an aged care facility – something she has always dreaded (more for cultural reasons) – gives me a sense of purpose.

What have you found the hardest about caring for a loved one?

We’ve all heard of elder abuse, but with my mother’s cognitive, emotional, and rational thought deterioration there are times when she is someone totally different and has verbally abused me.

More particularly over the last few years I’ve had to deal with – albeit occasional since a new regime of medications – very hurtful remarks and comments directed at me.

Seeing a loved one’s life essence robbed by Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) is like watching the void created when an hourglass empties.

Was there anything you wished you had known when you first started caring for a loved one?

Caring for a loved one isn’t just a labour of love, it is a burden in countless ways that many could never appreciate or imagine, lest of all our out-of-touch politicians and bureaucrats who are living in an alternate reality.

Like many carers I have neglected my own self-care and needs (social, personal, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial) succumbing to carer burn-out; they call it compassion fatigue.

What advice would you give someone new to caring?

There is a high personal cost and a lot of sacrifices to be made in being a carer; be they physical, emotional, financial, or otherwise.

You need to set boundaries, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek help and advice, and most of all, look after yourself because if you become incapacitated your life and that of your charge will be upended.

Sadly, life is full of unexpected certainties: accidents, emergencies, hospitalisations; prepare a carer-crises-contingency plan.

An integral part of Australia’s caring landscape, male carers across the country bring unique strengths, perspectives, and contributions to the table. By challenging stereotypes, fostering inclusivity, and providing support, we can create a society where all carers, regardless of gender, are valued and supported in their important role.

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