Sharing care is different from the other sharing arrangements we cover in this book, because it involves sharing responsibility for another person. As such, it raises some unique concerns.
Why Share Care
When you share care, you are trusting others with your own care or the care of the people you love the most. This is clearly quite different from sharing possessions or space, and perhaps more anxiety-provoking. But many common forms of child and elder care actually involve sharing, even though they aren't necessarily viewed that way. In day care centers, camps, schools, and after-school programs, for example, children from many families come together for care and education. Elder care facilities, senior centers, and government and community services for elders also gather people together for care and companionship.
The sharing arrangements we cover in this chapter add another benefit to the cost savings, companionship, and efficiency of these familiar models: control over, and participation in, the caregiving process. For example, in a babysitting cooperative (see Solution 1, below), each family participates in running the program by helping with administration and providing the actual care for the kids. Similarly, if you hire someone to provide care to a parent and a neighbor's parent, you and your parents get to decide whom to hire, how much time the care receivers will spend together, what the caregiver will help with, and much more.
This opportunity to shape and participate in the caregiving process goes a long way toward making it possible to get help with our caregiving responsibilities. For some parents, the thought of sending a child to full-time day care raises concerns—or even guilt—over questions like: Will my child be safe? Will my child develop properly? Will my child be happy? Will my child miss me? Will I miss watching my child grow up? Similarly, some who have considered seeking care for an aging parent have had to wrestle with these issues: Will my parent be well cared for? Will my parent suffer neglect or abuse? Will my parent resent me? Am I treating my parent like a child? When we know the caregiver, participate in providing care, and manage the process, many of these concerns are alleviated. Knowing that we and our chosen caregivers are doing a good job makes it possible to share the sometimes tremendous stress and burden of providing care on our own.
For those who need care, opportunities to make choices and act independently can be too few and far between. Paid care can be costly, but it may not be possible for elders and adults with disabilities to live on their own without some assistance. Sharing can close the gap: Partnering with another adult who needs care can make it less expensive to hire paid help. If you can find someone whose skills and needs complement yours, all the better: Your share can be free. For example, perhaps one friend no longer drives but is otherwise physically active, while the other has physical disabilities but drives. A rides-for-chores exchange could meet everyone's needs.
Involving the Person Receiving Care
Unlike the other arrangements we cover in this book, some of the solutions in this chapter require you to consider not only your own needs and those of your sharing partner(s), but also the needs of the person receiving care. In some cases, the person receiving care can't make decisions or offer detailed feedback. A very young child, an elder with advanced dementia, or an adult with certain disabilities won't participate much in care decisions. However, older children and many elders will want to have a say in—or be in charge of—decisions like who will provide care, other children or adults with whom they might share care, and what the care will include.
- Talking with your kids. Let your children know that their opinions about how they're taken care of matter. And take the time to find out what those opinions are: Kids often don't communicate as clearly and quickly as adults, so let the conversation be as long (and perhaps, as scattered) as it needs to be. Try not to interrupt or to use up all of the airtime with that well-meaning parental tendency to explain everything at great length.
- Talking with adults who need care. A sense of independence is enormously important to most elders and people with disabilities. Having a say in their own care can go a long way towards preserving independence and control. Sit down with the adults whose care you're helping with and find out what's important to them in a care situation, what they might not want, and how they want their day-to-day routines structured. It's fine to suggest a plan you've developed, but try to offer genuine opportunities for input rather than presenting it as a done deal.