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caretaker role in family

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I want to believe we’ve shattered a lot of gender norms. I’d love to say that today, there are no expectations or even trends surrounding which gender takes on which tasks in a household. But there’s no use in being delusional, as studies find that women still spend more time than men in caregiving capacities and carrying out personal care tasks for others in their household. Studies also find women report more stress related to caring for others. And, even though women are not proven to be any more compassionate than men are, research has found that they’re better at expressing sympathy than men. We’re just conditioned to be more comfortable with it. Who does anyone want to turn to when they’re not feeling well? Someone who appears the most sympathetic. That could be why the burden of being a caregiver falls on women over and over again.

If you are a mom, perhaps you’ve just come to terms with the fact that, when your kids are sick, you’ll be shouldering most of that weight. But what about when you’re the one who is sick? Who is going to take care of you? If you have ever had your boyfriend or husband responsible for your health when you’ve come down with something, you may have come to the hilarious realization that men are a bit out of their element when they have to play nurse. I had the funny experience of having my husband care for me when I had COVID-19 recently. He loves me. He definitely worked hard. But I could tell he was far more stressed out by the role of a caregiver than I am when he’s the one who is sick. Here are some ways men and women behave differently when it’s time to provide TLC to a sick partner.


You buy all the supplements

As a woman, if your partner (or anyone in your household) becomes sick, you probably build an arsenal of immunity-boosting supplements. You’re getting vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, Echinacea, elderberry – you name it. You are getting that ginger tea for stomach aches and peppermint tea for nausea. You’re grabbing vapor rub for congestion. You gather up all your CVS coupons and hit the actual pharmacy portion of the store to bring home everything that can strengthen the sick individual’s system. The shopping list is long and specific and you are on your partner’s case throughout the day to take his supplements.

He gets you an orange

You get sick and your partner gets you some oranges. “They have vitamin C,” he says. The reality is that his mom is helping you more than he is. He mentioned to her that you’re sick, and that resulted in her texting him all the remedies to give you. When she realized he was only responding to one-fourth of her texts, she put you both on a group text. Truth be told, she knows the only way her son is going to take good care of you when you’re sick is if he gets pressure from both his mother and you to do so. But his mom will ultimately send you a care package with all of the things she asked him to buy you, that he didn’t get around to buying. The oranges were tasty though.

You make soup

When your partner is sick, you become a full-time chef (more than you perhaps already were). You’re making him fresh soup with chicken stock and vegetables. You know that chicken soup has many benefits for a sick person, like anti-inflammatory properties that increase white blood cells, and the ability to help clear congestion. You’re making him nourishing, comforting, hydrating meals. You’re also getting him nice bland foods like white rice, or potatoes, because you know his tummy can’t handle too much right now. You are very much catering the menu in the house to your partner’s illness. If he has a fever, you grab some popsicles to comfort him and cool him down (along with fever reducer, of course).

He makes a freezer pizza

When I had COVID-19 my husband made me pizza, a burger, and some honey ginger shrimp thing. These were good foods, but they are by no means what you’re supposed to eat when you’re sick. My stomach was going through quite a bit because of the virus, and asking it to digest pepperoni pizza or a cheeseburger was kind of a lot. But, honestly, I do all the grocery shopping and most of the cooking in our home, so just being in charge of sustenance was a lot for my partner. Asking him to cater the menu for some special need – like immunity-boosting – would have been too much, too fast. So I ate like a fraternity guy for as long as my body would allow.

You take it in stride

Women are just good at taking care of their own needs and the needs of others without really sweating it. We’re used to it. We can have an engaged conversation on the phone with a childhood girlfriend while preventing kids from harming themselves and when in the middle of fixing a husband’s shirt. So caring for a sick partner is no big deal. We work the tasks into our schedule seamlessly. I could make my meal while stirring his chicken noodle soup at the same time. I remembered to drop into the pharmacy while I was already running an errand next door to grab him vitamins. Honestly, women have caretaking down to an artistry. We can do it, without other areas of our lives taking much of a hit.

He’s super stressed out

Bless his heart, but I could see my husband stressing out over taking care of me. Just one day of having to incorporate the unexpected tasks of caretaking into his workload had him on edge. He was pulling his hair out. Having to make me something to eat between answering emails seemed to cause him anxiety I would reserve for disarming a bomb. It was very clear that he had a deep understanding that nothing was about to go as planned, for several days, and he wasn’t sure how he would handle it. Meanwhile, that’s the reality of moms and women in general every day.  Things won’t go as planned, and we’ll just have to wing it.

You’re at his beck and call

I almost bought my husband a little bell so he could ring it when he needed me during his illness. I knew that it was hard on him to yell across the house, and I worried I may accidentally have my cell phone on silent. But, also, I made sure my cell phone volume was on and turned up, so he could call or text me from his room if he needed anything. I also popped by his room once an hour to see if he needed anything while resting. His health was my top priority, and I very much behaved as if a sick person was in my charge. If he needed something, I dropped everything I was doing and did it.

He needs a minute

Sparing my voice was no option when I was sick. My husband leaves the volume off on his phone all of the time. He doesn’t like the sound of it ringing, claiming it interrupts his work. Even though he tried to remember to turn the volume on when I was sick, in case I needed something, he still mostly forgot. So I’d have to yell, with weak lungs, across the house when I needed something. And then, to be honest, he took his sweet time to respond. He did not drop what he was doing. He finished what he was doing, and then got around to what I needed. He’s a good man – it just goes back to the multi-tasking thing. If he stops what he’s doing, he loses his concentration, so sometimes the glass of water I wanted just had to wait until he finished drafting a document.

You force him to stay in bed

Rest is one of the most important things when someone is recovering from an illness. And I force my partner to rest when he’s sick. He wants to fight it. The crazy man wants to go to the gym when he’s sick! It’s not only bad for him but also inconsiderate of the other gym-goers. I have to literally hide his car keys. I have to push him back on the bed. I have to threaten to call my mom and tell her how dumb he’s being (he really wants my mom’s approval). And I do all of this, knowing that it means my husband won’t like me for a while, all for his betterment.

You remind him you must stay in bed

When I was sick, I had to remind my husband I was sick. We have a dog who needs to go out three times a day. Every time that need came up, I’d have to ask my partner to take her. Most of the times he’d double-check, “You sure you’re not able to do it?” Oh. My. God. When the tables are turned, I will not allow the man to go for a walk when he’s sick. Meanwhile, he’s testing the waters, seeing if perhaps I’m actually strong enough to take our dog outside. He always caved and took the dog out, but he was certainly not going out of his way to make sure I stayed in bed, rested up and got healthy sooner than later.

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