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Who cares?

May 14, 2008

I learned a new word. Blue Milk often writes about “carers” on her blog, and at first I was reading it as “careers” because my mind wasn’t paying attention to the context. My learning of this new word was gradual as I kept reading the word on her blog, and what she was saying finally sunk in. I began to wonder what the equivalent word would be in American usage. In the United States we have the choice between the terms “caretakers” and “caregivers,” whereas in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand the term “carer” is common. Isn’t it amazing that “giver” and “taker” would be synonyms? But are they really synonyms? It seems that a caretaker takes care of property or animals and a caregiver cares for human beings. Why would the line be drawn in that way? Perhaps a caregiver is grateful for the opportunity and experiences the quotidian tasks as blessings. And perhaps a caretaker is more likely to become overwhelmed and resentful. But it is also possible to imagine someone truly enjoying the maintenance of a lawn and experiencing those tasks as blessings. And I know many people who would rather be taking care of their animals than doing anything else in the world because they derive so much peace from those tasks. So I hesitate to define/judge/limit “caregiver” as positive and “caretaker” as negative. Do you have any insights into the difference between “giver” and “taker” in this context?

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toddler feet

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  1. May 14, 2008 4:41 pm

    It’s an interesting question, and I’d love to hear what the roots and history of each term were.

    I googled it, wondering if others had anything more specific to say. I did find someone who made the distinction that a caregiver gave only as much care as was specifically needed, and encouraged independence as much as possible, versus a caretaker as someone who had full responsibility for all aspects of care. (so, caregiver of young children, caretaker of newborns)

    I’m sure that’s nowhere near universal, but it was an interesting take on the question.

    My thoughts were going a bit opposite of that. Since only caretaker could apply to land and animals as well as humans (at least according to one dictionary), I thought about what the difference was…and to my mind, if you are a “caretaker” of land or a house, you are doing what is necessary for the maintenance of that land/house, right? Intervention or “care” is not a constant so much as where needed.

    So I thought maybe a caretaker would be someone who provided assistance where needed, but didn’t need to provide assistance for everything, and a caregiver would be one who did provide assistance with everything.

    I have a feeling that most people use whatever term the people around them use! “Carer” makes so much more sense, and is much less confusing!

  2. May 14, 2008 4:54 pm

    Deb, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I found that same website through google, and I didn’t agree with the distinction made there. When I give care to someone I can feel used up. But when I take care in all that I do, I feel fulfilled and happy. So I think “caretaker” can’t have its roots in taking care from someone. It has to be like when you sign a letter, “Take care” because you want the person to be well.

    The word “carer” is less confusing but it has so much baggage. It immediately implies “worn out” and “in need of respite.” This gives me a lot to think about.

  3. May 15, 2008 12:45 am

    What an interesting response to my post! Thanks.

  4. May 15, 2008 1:36 am

    Without doing any research, I think there is a clear distinction (to me anyway). A care-giver is one who performs their task without the expectation of compensation. A mother’s obligation to her child or the care for an elderly parent for example.

    A care-taker is one who is employed. They take in the form of recompense for their services. There is no parental/familial/friendship obligation involved. A simple barter of services for currency.

    Interesting post though. So many words in our lexicon are overlooked, but they define our experience. A couple of words I uncovered recently are “dis-ease” and “human be-ing”. I know you can appreciate the hyphenated meanings.

  5. May 15, 2008 10:43 am

    Blue Milk, your posts are quite provocative. Thank you for that!

    Johnny, that could very well be the distinction. Thanks for helping me out! And, yes, I can see why you hyphenated those words. They are so much easier to understand when written that way.

  6. May 15, 2008 10:53 pm

    Hey Windy,
    Good post and good point. I always thought that caretaker made sense in the context of taking care of grounds – care taker – made sense. Care giver I believe is a relatively recent coined term, is it not? And I just assumed it was in some sense a play on caretaker but because it referred to the care of another human being that giving would make more sense. I don’t know, somehow in my mind it all made sense. I like carer though, seems simpler and more to the point.

  7. May 16, 2008 12:52 pm

    WC, I don’t know why my mind couldn’t just accept the terms, but I think misreading “carer” was what tripped me up. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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