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Men: Caring Differences

One Tough Road

differences

Men and women approach many things differently. You can see this by how little boys and little girls play.  Little boys play competitive games that are action oriented. Little girls play games that feature cooperation and caring. Some say this is the result of how our society raises us, and some say it is the result of our genes, or a mixture of both.

No matter what the reasons, by the time men and women have families, the die is cast. Women are traditionally the caregivers in the family and men are considered the breadwinners in the family.

Women as Caregivers

  • Women are taught by society to be nurturing and caregivers.
  • When a woman takes on the care of a stroke survivor, it is either a continuation of a caring role (albeit more intense) held prior to the stroke or the fulfillment of her expected role. 
  • The thing that has changed for female caretakers is the situation, not the expectation.

    Men as Caregivers
  • When a man assumes the care of a stroke survivor, the role change can be more difficult. 
  • Men are taught to be problem solvers and providers. 
  • The man may not have been the family’s primary caregiver and nurturer before his wife’s stroke. What’s more, it is not the traditional role that society expects of him. 
  • This may create a total change in what a man is all about and has learned to be in life. These changes can make the transition to caring for a loved one difficult for men.

    What Does this Mean?
  • Are men doomed to failure or does this mean they cannot care for their loved one?  Absolutely not. 
  • In fact, some studies show that men caregivers suffer less depression and fewer adverse health effects than women caregivers do because of their unique approach to things.
  • Simply put, men care for their loved ones in a uniquely male way.

    Uncommon Work
    The problem for men is that the world evaluates caring from the perspective of women, not men. Men caring for a loved one is still a novel thing in society. Therefore the approach men bring to caring is so new that many overlook the male way of caring. For example, men often approach caregiving with problem solving skills versus emotion skills.  This problem solving approach to caring might be called cold and uncaring by family members who expect care to be emotional in nature.

  • An example of this is the first instinct a woman caregiver has when she extends herself emotionally and “feels” the frustration that a stroke survivor is feeling when he cannot feed himself.  The male caregiver in the same situation dampens his emotions and applies lessons learned in his work life to become a problem solver; he engineers silver wear that has extra big handles to assist in holding or attaches a Velcro tie to the handle.
  • What is important to remember is that neither of these approaches is wrong.  Both approaches may be caring based, and both the man and the woman eventually reach the same outcomes.  
    • One is emotion based (woman) and one is solution based (man).

Work Approach

Because a man’s primary focus for most of his life is the work world, he often applies the skills and approaches he has learned in employment to the care of his loved ones.

    • An example of this is when a man acts as an “organizer” or “leader” to delegate the roles of various family members or helpers in caring for their loved one.
    • This frequently is a male preferred approach rather than doing the hands on care. 
    • What is important is that this is no less a labor of love in caring and men need to embrace this approach as good and valuable.

Men Are Less Open

You want to scare the heck out of a man?  Tell him to share his feelings.

  • This points out another important difference between men and women caregivers.
    • Men tend to be less ‘open’ than women.  Men tend to have fewer close friends they can talk to and they tend not to talk to those friends about their emotions anyway. 
    • In fact, for many men the one person they talked to is the one that is recovering from a stroke. This isolation can cause men to carry the whole burden of caring on their own.

Private

Men tend to prefer to keep their family business private and deal with things on their own.  This may be because men think that when others see a problem, it means they are not getting the job done.

  • This can be difficult for men because it ends up isolating them and reducing the number of solutions to their problems.  Not calling a public agency for help or not attending a stroke support group are examples of this self-defeating approach. 
  • Women on the other hand might feel comfortable calling different agencies or sharing their experiences in a group in order to get the help they need.

Solutions

Realize that caring for a loved one is not about being male or female.  It is about caring for the person you love.  By focusing on the job of caring, men can transcend male/female categories of behavior and just get the job done.

Talk. Talk online, talk to family, friends, and talk to your doctor. It doesn’t matter who, just open up and talk with others about the things you are experiencing and feeling.  Benefits of communication range from tips on how to easily put a meal together to keeping you from becoming depressed or isolated.

Caregiving is going to have to work for you and your loved one so embrace the “maleness” in the solutions you discover.  For instance, if you find the best way to care for your loved one is through delegation of some or all of the day to day tasks to others, be happy with that.  Avoid evaluating your care using society’s female caregiver yardstick.

Web Sites

The following are some web sites to provide you with more information about men as caregivers: 
(Please click to view Web sites)

Caregiving: It's Different for Men

Men as Caregivers

 

References:

Baker, K. L., & Robertson, N. (2008, June 4). Coping with caring for someone with dementia: Reviewing the literature about men. Aging & Mental Health, 12(4), 413-422.

Blazina, C., Eddins, R., Burridge, A., & Settle, A. (2007, Winter). The relationship between masculinity ideology, loneliness, and separation-individuation difficulties. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 15(1), 101-109.

Sanders, S., & Power, J. (2009, February). Roles, responsibilities, and relationships among older husbands caring for wives with progressive dementia and other chronic conditions. Health & Social Work, 34(1), 41-51.

Taylor, C., Lillis, C., LeMane, P., & Lynn, P. (2008). Fundamentals of nursing (6th  ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Developed in 2011 by Timothy Dymond, RN, BSN at the University of Toledo for Caring~Web.

Last Updated: 6/23/16