Honoring My Mother and All Care Workers

My mother has been working as a caregiver for older and disabled folks for more than 25 years, nearly all of my life. I’ve learned a lot watching her over the years working with and supporting disabled people—how to be a steadfast listener and a warm conversationalist, and how to recognize the innate dignity of another person.  

She never wavered in dedication to her job, but still, the work is extremely hard. Growing up, she’d often work the night shift, leaving the house for the assisted living or nursing home at 9 p.m, and returning 10 hours later at 7 a.m, to drive me and my sister to school. 

After that, she’d get groceries, debate whether she had time to go to the doctor—her back had been acting up again—manage our household, and, more often than not, take on an additional home care job in the afternoon to supplement the low pay at the nursing home.   

She somehow always carved out time for my sister and me to get into some adventure at the library or the mall—or redeem my reading awards for a free pizza—so I didn’t realize for a long time that she rarely slept for more than three or four consecutive hours. It took me years to realize that her back problems were a result of her doing the work of two people at her job.   

Though she rarely let it show when I was a child, I see now how the work wears on her mind and body—she’s often one of the last faces someone sees before they pass and the daily witness to people navigating extreme physical and emotional pain. The work also limits her ability to find solace and rejuvenation—her spiritual practice, music, and friendships are the first things sacrificed for a few hours of sleep.  

My mom’s story is similar to the millions of other care workers and caregivers who support our youngest children and older and disabled folks—and who are frequently disabled themselves. All too often, this work goes unrecognized.  

April was Care Workers Recognition Month, a period where we took the time to show how much we appreciate and value care workers who have been instrumental in our lives, my mother included. Care work routinely involves long days, demanding physical activity—and very low wages. 

Under-compensated and under-supported jobs in the care industry demonstrate that our system does not value care workers like my mom, who are often low-paid, Black and brown women who struggle to support themselves and their families. The average direct care worker earns a little over $15 an hour, and over 40 percent have to rely on public assistance like Medicaid and SNAP to make up for the fact that their job alone is not enough to provide for their families 

The National Women’s Law Center is advocating for large-scale investments in our nation’s care infrastructure so that people working in home care, child care, and other vital jobs have living wages, rights and benefits at work, and sustainable careers. We need to care for the people who care for everyone else.   

We asked others to share what care workers and caregivers have meant to them or their loved ones. We got over 460 responses! Here are just a few that I wanted to share with you: 

I have been cared for during the past 40 years. You have healed me, saved my life, softened my life. I am incredibly grateful. Thank you. – Lynn D

 

Thank you to all the care workers. My mom worked midnights when I was growing up as a nursing assistant. So many hours giving care to others. Bless you all for your service and devotion. – Carol G

 

Both as an individual and as a physician, I have seen how very hard these folks work, how very dedicated and caring they are and how they deserve so much more than they are getting in appreciation, pay and benefits. Thank you so very much. – Karin H

 

I am a mom of two adults who have struggled with physical and emotional disabilities. I have always been the caregiver, and now I am relying on others to help take care of me!! I am so thankful for those who dedicate their lives to helping others. – Dawn B

 

Dear Sarah – Thank you for partnering with my mom to resource her caring for my dad, who suffers from dementia, and lessen her stress. You listen, lead support groups for caregivers and patients, and offer practical solutions to problems that can feel overwhelming. Your guidance as a social worker has made a huge difference, such as teaching us about the sunflower lanyard program that enables people with hidden disabilities such as memory loss to signal to airport personnel—quietly, with dignity—that they may need extra help. Knowing that you are close by lessens my worry, as I am hundreds of miles away, and boosts mom and dad’s ability to live more independently and to age gracefully. – Nancy W

 

Thank you to all who so lovingly take care of the ones we love. – Barbara K

 

My mom’s work has brought a lot of value to our lives—the folks she took care of became her friends, people who in turn looked after me, and people whose stories she still tells. I’ve admired her and her strength and her work ethic all my life. She taught me how to show up for people and she encourages me to dream big, not only for myself but for the future of this world, where the innate dignity of every person is seen and recognized.