Why we need supporting caregivers just as much as the primary ones
Today’s reflections post is by our newest team member, Latia Johnson, who is our digital content creator & caregiving tech specialist. Latia helps care for her sister, who has multiple sclerosis.
Sometimes more than one caregiver is caring for someone at the same time. But that doesn’t make one role more important than the other: it takes a village, and all contributions are valuable.
Typically though, there’s one caregiver who’s the point person—often known as the primary caregiver. They’re the one who takes the person to doctors’ appointments, handles the finances, makes calls, runs errands, and more.
But in some households, there are caregivers in a supporting role. They may cook the meals, clean the house, and set up the next day for the primary caregiver.
In my household, my mother is the primary caregiver for my sister, who has multiple sclerosis (MS). My mother does everything, and my sister relies on her as the point person. It makes me feel like I’m not doing enough to help out, like I’m not taking on enough duties to alleviate some of the stress. I’ve cried often over this dilemma.
After reflecting on and talking through the reasons I felt I wasn’t pulling my weight, I realized that wasn’t true. I was cleaning the house from top to bottom. Washing clothes, making beds, running errands. Keeping the place running smoothly in the background was my role. To me, this was something I always did—not realizing that by doing so, I was helping my mother tremendously.
In movies, a supporting character helps the main character move smoothly through the story. Whether they are the comedic relief, the friend who is faithfully there, or the one who tells the main character to grow up and change, we all know without them, the story wouldn’t be as strong and meaningful.
We must think of primary and secondary caregivers in that way as well. Yes, the primary caregiver is the face everyone knows and sees—the one who gets the calls in the middle of the night, the one everyone looks to for answers and direction. But without the supporting person, the primary caregiver couldn’t accomplish everything, and life would be much more chaotic. Burnout would be inevitable—and a regular occurrence too.
Everyone’s role in the caregiving ecosystem is essential. No job is too small. It takes a village to make everything run without a hitch—and as we know, at any moment a caregiving curveball may throw off that smooth-running system.
Never undervalue your importance in the life of the person you’re caring for. In fact, celebrate your role as the secondary caregiver, and lean into it. Think of the ways you are caring for the primary caregiver AND your loved one/caree by doing so.
Take time today to do some reflecting of your own, and use the visual above to think about all the people who are involved in caregiving.
- How do you see your role as a caregiver?
- Are you valuing your contributions enough?
- Are you seeing the ways your village supports you?