Natural Care – Playing Teeter Totter with an Elephant (1)

Care, caring, and caregiver are words used to describe those who take care of family members or friends out of love.  These terms are also used by those who are paid to help and support others.  This is confusing on a number of fronts.  One, there is a big difference between being paid to provide care versus not expecting and not receiving financial compensation.  Two the policy discussions and funding decisions tend to focus on professional and paid care provided by non profits, governments or institutions as if they were the only ones. This paid sector receives the bulk of the financial resources allocated by governments.  In this regard, natural care is playing teeter totter with an elephant.  Until we come up with better terms, I will make a distinction between natural care and paid care

What are the characteristics of natural care?  First it is heart work, accompanied by joy, grace, and tenderness.  It can also be messy, unyielding, unromantic and decidedly unglamorous. It is provided to people we love and care about, who are or have become dependent on us for many basic needs.  This includes caring for our babies, our loved ones who are elderly, have serious chronic illness. mental illness or disabilities.  Natural care acknowledges dependency i.e. if the care was not provided our child, husband, friend or family member would not survive.  This is in contrast to the prevailing emphasis on interdependency.  Eva Kittay defines such care as ..the support and assistance one individual requires of another where the one in need of care is ' inevitably dependent', that is dependent because they are young, too ill or impaired, or too frail to manage daily self-maintenance alone. 

Providing care for our friends and family members who are dependent is work, even when it is not remunerated.  This care also includes, for example, mothers who supervises the quality of hands on care provided by others for their sons and daughters.  When you are providing natural care you cannot attend to your own requirements.  To be a natural caregiver is to become 'transparent' or invisible. 

Perhaps this is why the dimensions, requirements and scale of natural care is invisible as a serious public policy issue.  We have relegated it as a private matter.   Other obstacles include societal myths about individualism, self reliance, and personal independence. Myths – until we inevitably encounter our own or others' dependency. 

The inevitable dependencies of life serve to join us together and provide another thread of belonging.  We are connected through our vulnerability when dependent; our vulnerability as a natural caregiver ; as well as our potential vulnerability.  Natural caregivers do not see themselves as victims. Neither are the people who receive their care.  Their bonds are deep, and intimate.  They are however exposed, abandoned and neglected by our society.

Providers of natural care need resources to support themselves and the people they are caring for.  It is a matter of decency, natural justice and our collective survival. This serious matter should be a high public policy priority.  My next post will address some of these public policy challenges.


  1. I am indebted to Donna Thomson for her views and insights on this topic.  Donna's first book, The Four Walls of My Freedom, will be out this fall. I'll keep you posted.
  2. A particularly thoughtful thinker, writer and provider of natural care is Eva Kittay.  Check out her website which offers many of her important articles here.
  3. I am well aware most of the natural care is still unfortunately provided by women.  Isn't it time we men came forward to address this issue as well?
  4. This is the second of an occasional series I am writing about supporting natural care givers.  Click the category Natural Care on the right hand side to access the other posts.
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  1. Sean Moore

    good piece. I believe I can see where you are taking this.

  2. Al Etmanski

    These are Donna’s comments pasted from Facebook.
    “You bring out some very interesting points here, Al. Especially the link between the ethic of interdependency and belonging. I will definitely have to think more about that. I think one of the fundamental problems (and PLAN has already done a lot to counter this) is the extent to which all types of care are undervalued in our society. If one values care in all its forms, then we must examine how reciprocity works between society and the carer and the care recipient.
    If someone is giving care well, (and this is especially true in the case where the care recipient cannot express their own needs), the carer has to be in a constant state of acute watching and listening. It is this that accounts for the ‘transparent self’. That is a very vulnerable state of affairs for the good natural caregiver!
    Thank you for a very thought provoking addition to your wonderful blog and look forward to the next on policies to support caring!”

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