Friday, October 26, 2018

Caretaking and Taking Care

Co-dependent (CAI 2018)
There is an important distinction between caretaking and taking care.

Because we are all flawed and weak, we need to take care of each other. As we know each others' triggers, the things that push each of us over the edge, we might take care to avoid them or come at them differently. As we know each others' communication preferences and typical reactions, we might choose our words. Understanding each others' weaknesses in daily life lets us shift the burdens we share so that we carry what we're more able to carry, and hand over what we find heavy and they find lighter. That's relationship, and it's an important manifestation of love, for self and others.

Each of us is responsible to keep our flaws and weaknesses from inflicting upon other people, as much as possible. Reducing our negative impact means we are responsible to pay attention, know ourselves, understand our own flaws and weaknesses, and take steps to avoid those triggers and have mechanisms to deal with things when they push us past our limits. That's relationship. Developing that is another important manifestation of love, for self and others.

When we take care of each other, we are giving each other support as we spend our lifetimes, overlapping, trying to know how we impact and give off the most love and support we can.

When we caretake, one of us is carrying the full burden, because the other is not taking the responsibilities of self-awareness in a relationship. If we decide to avoid a trigger as a consideration of what we know bugs the other person, that is not the same thing as feeling responsible to avoid it, fearing what happens if we can't, and taking the blame if we fail and are inflicted upon. That is caretaking. It is not respectful. It does not treat the other person as capable of self-awareness nor does it support them in developing it. It's very difficult to be in a relationship with someone we don't respect. It's a heavy burden, over time, to caretake someone in relationship. It leads to much resentment, less love, less support, more fear, more anger, more hurt. Caretaking is an expression of love, but because it's also an expression of fear and disrespect, it's doesn't support a goal of putting out more love and support.

Unfortunately, the parent-child relationship involves a lot of caretaking in the early days. Parents must caretake infants and small children who certainly can't be held accountable for self-awareness, and must be taught it with love and support through the ways we take care of them over time. As children develop, they must learn to be accountable for their impact on others in relationship. Moving from caretaking to taking care marks the primary challenge of parenting other people from start to adulthood and beyond. Moving from being caretaken to being taken care of, as an equal human taking care of others in relationship, represents the primary challenge of the first twenty years on Earth.

Parents must take responsibility for decisions that children lack the context or experience to make intelligently. They use their power to do so, and relinquishing that power, allowing errors to teach, allowing difficulties to shape, feels both dangerous and irresponsible as people age through childhood under your care. Yet it is also irresponsible to impose your way of being on another human without respecting their choices or allowing them to learn through experience. Missing the mark on that distinction is a primary cause of friction between parents and the humans in their care. Caretaking and Taking Care often flip into each other without anyone noticing, but we notice the feeling of missed communication, resentment, secrecy, irritation, and other symptoms that we're not taking good care of ourselves, each other, and this place.

In a family unit with more than one person in early life, siblings can learn to caretake. No one likes friction. When one sibling knows another well and can help avoid triggers or support overcoming strong reactions or weak performance, they might do so to make their own life feel more pleasant or secure. But if they learn, or are told, that it's their responsibility to caretake their sibling, they will learn caretaking as a behaviour they take forward in life, mistaking it for a healthy expression of love. They may do this out of love for a parent they wish to caretake by sparing them the difficult behaviour of the sibling. These patterns can pass through families for generations. Discussing the differences between caretaking and taking care can provide important context in families.

When someone is trying to take responsibility, we take care of them in the ways we can, to help them with their work. When someone is not trying to take responsibility, but take our care for granted, we end up doing their work and that is caretaking. It's a funny word, because when I am caretaking someone, they are actually the ones doing the taking of care, without reciprocating with the efforts required to reduce their negative impact and increase the love they give off.

When we discover ourselves caretaking, it's not something we can just stop doing, wham, slam them to the floor. If we've let the people in our lives rely on us they haven't developed the muscles to rely on themselves. Not to mention, that is how they've learned to receive our love. It's perfectly natural that this happens in relationship, but when we want to reduce the friction and increase the happy, new pathways must be built before the old ones are severed. So we start having regular and honest communication about each of us moving our own part of the responsibility forward, and how we're able and willing to support each others in that. Because we care about each other, so we take care of what they legitimately need on the path to more love and support forward from all directions.

In relationship, we take care of each other and try to reduce our negative impact while maximizing love and support. Worthy goals for all of humanity and our relationship with our planet and societies.