Tuesday 4 June 2013

Being a male carer just ain't macho! Think again!

Many still regard caring as being a woman's role, this is far from the truth. In the UK, well over a third of carers are male. Being a male carer brings challenges, challenges that may not be encountered by female carers. I am a male carer, and I care for my 86 year old Mum, who has vascular dementia.

Let me first tell you a little about myself. By profession, I'm a Graphic Designer. Also, until a couple of years ago, I was an army reservist (Territorial Army here in the UK - similar to the US National Guard) for 26 years. I've lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have been to the funerals of people who were taken from us, far too early in their lives.

I love mountain walking and climbing, rock climbing and abseiling (rappelling). I trained as a mountain leader, and have helped at charity events taking groups of fund raisers over parts of the Alps. I also love skiing.

I've run the London Marathon, and raised money for Marie Curie Cancer Care in memory of my late father – another military man, who also served for 26 years, in the regular army. We both reached the same rank of Warrant Officer Class 2.

As a child, with Dad being in the army, we spent a lot of time abroad, mainly in West Germany and West Berlin, and also Gibraltar. In fact up to the age of 15, I had spent more time in Germany, than in the UK.

Chances are, I've done things that a lot of people will never get to do. All of this is now on hold. My life, for the time being, is dedicated to the one person I care for most, my Mum. She brought me into this world, and showed me the love and affection, only a Mother can. It is now time for me to do the same, and care for her.

I never planned to be a carer, and never prepared myself for it, the role just gradually took over. I never married, that's not to say I didn't get close – I did, a couple of times. But, ultimately, I remained single.

So here I am, a single man, and only child, caring for his Mother. How do others view this? From my own point of view, some regard what I do as admirable, they're aware of the work involved, and how little we carers, male or female, are rewarded for it. Others may say the same, but soon disappear from your life. Some may think it a little odd. Others think it's just wrong!

Men become carers for a variety of reasons, some, like me, care for elderly parents. Others care for their partners, whilst many care for their children. Caring has, for far too long, been viewed as being a female role – this just isn't true, men have been caring for centuries. In fact, probably for as long as the human race has existed.

Yet, in our so called modern liberal society, men as carers, are still viewed with suspicion. There is still too much stigma attached to men in caring roles. This stigma extends beyond the role of men as carers for loved ones, many men, carrying out what are perceived to be female roles in the Medical and Care professions, are viewed in the same way.

Men who care for loved ones, are more likely to feel isolated. Men are less likely to ask for help, find it harder to express emotions, and more difficult still to share their caring experiences. Caring just isn't macho enough. Isn't it? Until any man has carried out the duties of a carer, who are they to judge their fellow men?

Caring is not easy, and the role for men is harder still. Nurturing and caring is not considered to be a natural male role in many societies. When man was a hunter gatherer, the caring role was left to the females. When man became a keeper of animals and sower of seeds, the caring role became less clearly defined – both men and women would share many tasks. From working on the land, to bringing up families. Several generations would work together – caring for each other.

As the population grew, and towns and cities developed, the role of men changed. In these towns and cities, many occupations were male orientated, it was the men who went out to work, whilst the women stayed at home, bringing up the families. With the industrial revolution, this changed again. Women and children also went out to work - in mills and factories. Yet it was still the women, who were expected to carry out all the domestic tasks, as well as bring up the family, and care for elderly parents.

Times have changed – or have they? Yes, men and women now do similar jobs, but in many areas, men still vastly outnumber women. We are not yet the modern liberal society we'd like think we are. Oddly enough, and from personal experience, in this area the armed forces are considerably more advanced, than many other parts of our society. Whilst a woman has yet to achieve the “top job” - apart from HM The Queen, as Commander in Chief, that is - many women have achieved the rank and status, once thought to be a purely male preserve.

So, we accept quite easily, that a woman can carry out a similar job to men, yet we still find it hard to accept, that a man can do a “woman's” job. Caring is not just a “woman's” job. Men are equally as capable of carrying out the task. Yet society has conditioned us to believe that such a task is part of a woman's domain.

Then of course, there are those certain duties we male carers have to perform. Whilst it may be perceived to be quite acceptable for a husband to carry out certain personal hygiene duties for his wife, when these are carried out by a son for his Mother, attitudes change. Few think twice about a daughter carrying out such duties for her Father, but a son for his Mother? Now that really is wrong! Surely?

Admittedly, when I first had to do this for my Mother, I felt very uncomfortable about it. Now, however, it's something I just do. It is necessary, necessary for her health and well being. It has to be done, and I don't have a choice – I have no else to do it for me. It is not, however, a subject I would feel comfortable discussing, nor, should I imagine, would any other man.

After finally realising I was a carer for my Mother – I initially found it difficult to tell people about it. I was concerned about the way they would react, or what they would think. Fortunately, we now live in a small community with a higher than average number of elderly and disabled people. Attitudes here, are more understanding, people are more open, and very few judge.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all communities. For many carers, regardless of gender, admitting to others they are carers, can be difficult. There are still many stigmas attached to caring, from being regarded as benefit scroungers to being just too lazy to work.

Yet many carers do work, and those who don't, are likely to dedicate many more hours to caring, than the hours worked by someone in a 9-5 job. For many, caring is 24/7, not 9-5. Carers save the UK government around £100 billion (US $153 billion) a year, almost the same amount as the entire annual NHS budget.

If you are a male carer, and want to share your thoughts and experiences, let me know.


  1. Very well said Martyn! Whilst my gender is female, I have been a carer several times in my life, and I now support carers, both male and female, adult and child, in my role as counsellor in our state's carers organisation. Every day I speak to people who face similar stigma to you. You do an incredible job out of love for your mother. RESPECT to you!

    Ali :)

    1. Thank you Ali, much appreciated. Much of the stigma is down to lack of awareness - yet many, who express an opinion about male carers, will become carers themselves at some point.

  2. Your mom is so lucky to have you!

    1. Thank you Martha, I feel a lot for those who don't have someone like me, and hope when I'm old and frail, someone will be there for me too! :)