Doing some training today with our team, we worked through an exercise on the topic of reciprocity. The assignment was to, in one column, list all the ways in which you give care in a typical day. The other column was your place to list all the ways in which you receive care in a typical day.
Not surprisingly, a room that was filled with folks who work in elder care had long lists of the ways in which they provide care. This list was not confined to physical care nor was it confined to that which happens during working hours. Some of the lists were completely blank on the “receiving care” side and it prompted a conversation worth sharing.
As human beings it is easy to see the ways in which we give to others. We may help provide direct care. We may offer emotional support. Perhaps we define this as the ways we care for our families—providing for children, cooking meals and doing laundry, paying the bills and putting food on the table. The list of what we do and offer and provide is a long one. And it is valid. Absolutely.
But how often do we forget the ways in which we also receive care? When our child tells us that they love us, that’s care that’s being given to us. When one of our elders compliments us or gives us a squeeze of the hand or a kiss on the cheek that, too, is care being given. When your spouse brings home a treat they know you like, when they go out and warm up your car on a cold day and brush off the snow, when they bring your cup of coffee to you while you get ready for the day, that’s care being given.
For many of our elders it is difficult to give care the way they have in the past. Some of them may have been the source of family get-togethers and home-cooked meals that they can’t do anymore. Others may have been the dad who jumped in to fix whatever needed fixing and take on projects that needed doing. An elder may not be able to babysit a grandchild or orchestrate a family trip to the beach. But that does not mean that they don’t have the capacity, or ability, to give care.
An elder who struggles to speak can still offer us the gift of love that is in their eyes. An individual who shares a warm smile is offering us care. Asking questions about you, your family and your wellbeing are all ways in which caring is expressed.
It is tempting to see ourselves as “giving, giving, giving” but if we do that, we are selling the others in our life short. Relationships are a two way street but they may not look the same in both directions. When we fail to see the reciprocity that exists, we lose an opportunity to understand and to see just how much we are cared for.