The Unique Challenges of the Male Caregiver

Men tend to internalize the caregiving experience, but support can make all the difference.

Posted in , Sep 12, 2019

A male caregiver with his father.

Lisa Weitzman, LISW-S, is the BRI Care Consultation™ Manager of Business Development at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

Regardless of circumstances, caregiving presents a host of demands. For the male caregiver, however, longstanding stereotypes can make the experience even more challenging. The traditional idea of a caregiver is a woman, most often someone caring for a husband or father, and caregiver support programs tend to have a female focus. 

Despite societal expectations, according to a recent AARP study, 44 percent of family caregivers for older adults—or six million caregivers—are actually men, and 28 percent of these men are millennials (Accius, J. (2017). Breaking Stereotypes: Spotlight on Male Family Caregivers, AARP Public Policy Institute).

As with female caregivers, men who take on the role handle a variety of household tasks. They pay bills and oversee financial accounts, make doctor’s appointments, cover transportation and prepare meals, along with numerous other responsibilities. On a daily basis, they provide their loved one with personal care, including bathing, toileting and dressing. While it may seem, then, that there are not many differences between the male and female caregiving experiences, in many cases gender differences clearly play out in approaches and responses to caregiving.

Research studies have pointed out several key differences between men and women as caregivers. Men, in general, tend to be “fixers.” They tend to like to create lists of chores and delegate tasks that need to be completed. They often prefer to manage rather than administer hands-on care and focus on practical solutions rather than on their feelings about caregiving. Traditionally, they are not likely to discuss their stress. They may contract for assistance in the home, but they do not tend to seek emotional support in any way. In fact, men often believe that they should “tough it out on their own” and thus wait until a crisis before turning for help, even disregarding their own health issues. (Assisting Hands Home Care. (2014). Men as Family Caregivers). In sum, for many men, caregiving is not intuitive; rather it is a role they have to learn how to play.

Adding to this, male caregivers often have to buck societal expectations of who should handle caregiving tasks and how. It is not unusual for them to encounter employers, medical professionals and social service providers who are not used to dealing with men in this role and thus may disregard their issues. Another potential stressor is that many men still define themselves as the family provider; in fact, 66 percent of male caregivers still work full-time outside of the home. At the same time, 37 percent of men—and 45 percent of millennial males—hide their caregiving responsibilities while at work, afraid of the workplace ramifications of sharing this information (Accius, 2017). On top of this, men are often not as prepared as women for the intimate aspects of caregiving. Many lack hands-on caregiving experience, having been at work full-time while their children were growing up. Even when men want to reach out for help, they may not know where to turn because they are not used to searching out community resources.

Whether male or female, caregiving is not necessarily a choice. However, men often view it as a situation that has been thrust upon them that they want to solve. They “don’t self-identify as caregivers; they just see themselves as the good husband, son, or grandson” (Seegert, L. (2019). The special challenges men face as caregivers, Association of Health Care Journalists). But, as Jean Accius reflects, “Then they realize it’s harder than they thought, they can’t fix it, and they think they’ve failed. But that’s not the case” (Accius, 2017). As one male caregiver states, “It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do…I just had to put my feelings in a corner and go for it.” 

The good news is that men can take steps to find relief from the challenges of caregiving within “nonthreatening environments that allow for honesty without the pressure of rejection, ridicule, or criticism (Singleton, D. (2015) The Male Caregiver, If you are a male caregiver navigating this role, you may want to:

· Get as much information as possible, and take advantage of services in your area.

· Look into professional and/or online resources, including the Well Spouse Foundation, your state’s National Caregiver Support Program, online or all-male support groups, or caregiver coaching services like BRI Care Consultation™. Keep in mind that it is all right to ask for assistance from family and friends. You are not alone on this path, so allow yourself to seek out their help.

· Accept mixed feelings about the experience: it is a difficult process that can stir up conflicting emotions.

· Honor your strengths and play to them.

· Give yourself the time you need to take care of you.

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