When I tell people I’m studying Disability Studies or that I work at a group home or work as an inclusion counsellor, some of the most common responses I get are “wow you are so inspiring” or “good for you, I could never do that” or “you must be so patient.”
While these are all very nice things to say to say to me, they really aren’t super nice thing to say about disabled people I work with. They might come off as a compliment to me, but I don’t really take them as one. Now, if you’ve ever said one of these phrases or something similar to someone in the caregiving field, we are not offended. We still love you. And you are not wrong – we do need patience and lots of it. But don’t you need it too?
When someone works in an office, we don’t deem that as inspiring. When someone works in real estate we don’t call them heroes. When someone works at a hair salon we don’t bow down to them. Now, I know all these careers are great and perhaps we should give them more credit; however, while we appreciate the work they do, we don’t deem them inspiring or extremely patient heroes, like people tend to do with those who work in the disability or caregiving field, like me. Is it because we assume they are primarily working with non-disabled people who don’t require others to have patience? Because I don’t think that’s completely accurate.
Here’s the thing, we all need to be patient in the work we do. Our co-workers, clients, commutes, bosses, technology and schedules often require patience no matter what field we are in. So why is my patience in the caregiving field so inspiring to you? Why ‘could you never do that’?
Let’s frame it more personally to help me explain. When you give me these compliments, insert your own name and think about how it makes you feel. I’ll use my name as an example.
“Wow it’s so inspiring that you work with Liza”
“Good for you, I could never work with Liza”
“It takes a special kind of person to work with Liza”
“You must have so much patience to be working with Liza”
Do you see what I mean now? If people were constantly saying these things about me, I’d start to feel pretty hurt.
I identify as a non-disabled person and I still require lots of patience, but people don’t often applaud those around me for putting up with me. My mom shows me patience when I call her when I’m upset. My dad shows me patience as he helps me with all my car problems. My roommates are patient with me when I forget to put my dishes away. My coworkers are patient with me when I ask a million questions. The people I support are patient with me when I make mistakes. I, as a non-disabled person, require TONS of patience from others. So sure – it does take lots of patience to work with Liza – but I have literally never had anyone say this to me or about me.
We all give and take patience, that’s part of being human.
Now let’s be clear about something – I don’t want you to be scared to ever compliment a caregiver again – I just want you to be meaningful in the way you go about complimenting the caregivers in your life.
If I told you about the time when I spent an hour looking for my camper’s iPad in the woods because he chucked it in a moment of anxiety while he was following me around screaming – you can acknowledge that I needed patience in this situation.
If I told you about the time I was stranded in the middle of a lake in a canoe with a camper because he thought it would be funny to throw both of the paddles in the water – you can acknowledge my patience here too.
But, without context, I don’t think it’s fair to just assume that in my field, you need extreme patience all the time. Disabled people are just people – who both give and take patience. Sometimes they need it more than others and sometimes they give more patience than I could ever provide.
Here are some examples of compliments I like:
- “I am so happy you’ve found a job you’re so passionate about.”
- “Wow, I’ve never worked in caregiving, tell me more!”
- “Thank you for being a caregiver, that is an important job.”
- “I’m really proud of you!”
There is no need to put down the people I work with just to lift me up.
People in the caregiving field aren’t in it to inspire you. We are simply working with people, just like you work with people in an office, or hair salon or real estate, etc. We have to have extreme patience in some moments (ie frantic iPad searching in the woods) and we are given patience in others. Sure, in caregiving I might need a different kind of patience but it’s the same idea across the board.
Moving forward, please don’t just assume that caregiving is the most draining, annoying, gross and challenging field of work because we support disabled people. I will remind you, I am literally getting paid to love people. But part of loving people is loving them in every moment – both the tough and terrific. I shouldn’t inspire you. I am just another person, with another job, who works with people. It might seem scary, but really, if you have one ounce of love in your heart and an open mind – you could do it too. It’s really not that scary. And I’m really not that inspiring.
I hope this makes sense to someone out there! Of course, I do not speak on behalf of all caregivers out there, this is just my take. Thank you for taking the time to read today, and always.
Follow along to hear all about the ups and downs in direct support work, young adult life, and allyship – it sure has given me lots to write about! Enjoy some casual, light-hearted tales about all my adventures along the way.