July 1, 2008

The Inefficiency of Caregiving

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

If there’s one thing that characterizes our modern world, it’s that people don’t have time for each other. We rush from one activity to the next; we’re overcommitted, overscheduled, frenzied, and worn out.

Many of our time pressures come from outside sources and are not within our control. The long hours required of corporate workers, the travel and the deadlines that factor into certain careers, the hours of homework loaded onto our children — all of these demands come from systems and decisions made by someone else. But we also normalize frantic lifestyles when we don’t need to. Whether we take a job that requires a long commute, sign our children up for too many extracurricular activities, or take on more projects and commitments than we can handle, our decisions have long-range consequences that we need to consider. Even when we are the ones who made the series of choices that got us into our schedule crunch, we often feel that our schedule controls us. We yield to the pattern of continual intensity without offering any resistance. We have a growing realization that overcommitment and overwork are destructive, but in general, we don’t seem to change.

And as we give in to the standards society sets for us, we gradually internalize what our culture values: efficiency, speed, control, and quantity over quality. In this paradigm, caregiving seems very much out of place. Caring does not “maximize” our time. Its richest rewards are not tangible. Its results are not quantitative. Caregiving needs are unpredictable, and sometimes meeting them is a slow process. — Andi Ashworth, Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring, pp. 37-38.

Later, Ashworth writes:

Most of the time caring cannot be summarized, quantified, or measured. Not much is ever finished. Or if it is finished, it’s finished only for a short time. Families and houseguests get hungry again, clean houses get messed up, babies need to be fed every few hours. The most significant results of caregiving cannot be seen with human eyes.

A young mother once told me that when she weaned her baby, she realized that she had given eight hours a day for an entire year to nursing him, and even more when he was a newborn. Without eyes to see more than finished products, we can miss the significance of this special kind of work. Hour after hour of rocking, holding, and feeding a baby might not look like much to some people, but this mother knew better. She had captured a time that could never be repeated in the life of her child. She had given him the gift of herself and in doing so had to let go of the idea that a productive life is measured by a series of completed, visible projects (pp. 45-46).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:58 pm | Discuss (0)

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