To the people who are caring for our children, parents, grandparents, friends and workmates – thank you is not enough. The work needs to be better recognised by the people with the power and means to do so, writes Jess Berentson-Shaw. 

To all the people who are doing all the caring work,

To the carers of children, of parents, of nanas, or grandparents, of other parents, the carers of each other, and the carers of all of us. You may not feel seen right now, but you are the backbone of our community. Without your work nothing else would be working right now.  Without your grit to get up every day and do it over and over again until you reach the very edge of yourself and then go further, this lockdown would not be the success it is (and the ones before that as well). Without your love and your care, our economy, measured so narrowly in growth, dollars, sales, productivity, would not be open at all.

During this lockdown, like the other lockdowns, you are doing it all, at home, in bedrooms, living rooms, spaces not made for you to work at caring and attempting to work at everything else. You are running double shifts, triple shifts. Maybe, like me, you feel tired, frazzled and over it. Perhaps there are moments of joy for you? “Mum”, my youngest said, “I love spending more time with you” (followed shortly after by the primal scream, “I hate lockdown so much!!!!”).

Perhaps your children are doing learning, and you are playing tech support, teacher, chief organiser and feeder, and ever more desperate negotiator to get them to do something, anything, while also responding to your email queries, phone calls and meetings.

Perhaps your kids refuse to learn, or are too young to learn. They need all of you, all your limited energy and attention but perhaps your workplace does too. So you try to give it to both. And perhaps your boss says they understand but they still need that output you agreed upon and you find yourself leadenly typing some total shite at 10pm because you have to write something/anything.

Perhaps your parents need all your care and worry and you have none left to give to your teammates, but give it you do, because everyone forgets about the people caring for their parents – elderly, anxious, on the downhill slope of health.

Perhaps your partner has a job that is inflexible, perhaps they are an essential worker and they must also do their part, while you shoulder the double shift of care and your own work. Sometimes that is just the way it goes, but you shout anyway at the unreasonableness of this bloody virus.

Maybe you are on your own, already you have no break at the best of times. Everything is a magical negotiation to try and find the impossible minutes that must be somewhere if only you could find them? And now the workload is triple fold, with no one in your bubble to legitimately shout at for the unreasonableness of this bloody virus!

Maybe you need caring for yourself, and during lockdown you are now also caring for others. Perhaps you are arranging care and services for those who can’t, who are being shut off from work, from the services they need. Maybe you are now doing a triple shift of paid work, organising your own care and the care of others.

Perhaps you feel that really you have it okay. Compared to those who are frightened and threatened in their own homes, in unsafe places here and around the world also. 

But it is all part of the same thing: the essential nature of caring, and the struggle we all face because we have failed to properly recognise and prioritise in our systems. Lockdown just makes the refusal to see it, and treat it as critical to our wellbeing, excruciatingly obvious.

Too many people in policy, politics, economics, business, sports have refused to recognise and prioritise the essential work caring is. It’s ironic, however, that these same systems have been built on it. There is no work, commerce, sports, politics, process that can happen without work of people caring for others, and the environment, as lockdown is showing us again. Yet, many of us unquestionably believe that only some types of work matter to society, our economy, our functioning systems and caring work is just something on the side, a “personal choice or preference” individuals make. That is a powerful story, that certainly advantages some groups of people, and ultimately it is wrong. It means that too many people feel unseen, go unsupported, and the wrong types of work get prioritised, and most of us get hurt by that.

Quality care, when prioritised by people in policy and business systems, means we can address a number of issues that affect us all. It means improvements to many long-term and curly social and economic issues. For example, the need for children to have more time with caregivers in key development times, reducing the stress parents experience while raising children, reducing loneliness in our young and old people, enabling disabled people to fully participate at work, school, everywhere, building mental wellbeing and healthy understandings of relationship in young boys and men, sufficient health and sick leave to prevent the spread of illness. The prioritisation of caring across society offers us many solutions and many possibilities for new and different kinds of work that actively build the health and wellbeing of people and the environment.  

Prioritise caring and care work and all of us get the support we need when we need it. Because one thing is inevitable: we all need caring for, and we all thrive on it when it is done well.

So, lockdown is a time to remind ourselves of how critical caring is to who we are, and the functioning of our communities. To say thank you to the people who are caring for our children, our parents, our grandparents, our friends, our workmates. Thank you to the people keeping us all going. You are seen doing your caring, hustling on Zoom, breaking up fights, responding to lonely messages, shopping for others, planning the day and collapsing in a heap only to get up and do it all over again. And thank you is not enough. It needs to be better recognised by the people with the power and means to do so, for all of us.

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