Caregiver Perspective: An Interview with Britney Carpenter

To say that our caregivers are hardworking would be an incredible understatement. The time and hours they put in to care for our clients are invaluable to the lives of those we serve. One of those caregivers, our on-call coordinator and one of our amazing caregiver trainers, Britney Carpenter, sat down with me to talk caregiving, what she thinks is most important about the profession, and where the industry needs to grow to better serve the people who need it.

Jes Richards: How did you get started in caregiving?

Britney Carpenter: Growing up, my mom always did caregiving. She worked in facilities, CBRFs, so I would go with her when she would work 3rd shift. In the morning, after the people were up and ready, I would sit and talk with them. Back then, they were people who survived the Titanic days and world wars, and I just found it so interesting to sit and talk to them and get to know them.

When I was 15, my mom had a guy that was in one of her facilities; he had MS and was a full quadriplegic. He was being kicked out of the CBRF because he needed too much care and couldn’t afford skilled nursing. So, she actually transformed our back living room into his room, and he moved in with us. She worked around the clock. It turned into me helping out a lot, so I was learning about Hoyers and catheter care and all kinds of things. I was kind of like her sidekick with that, and I worked a lot of hours with him and got to know him. That’s kind of where it all got started.

JR: So you had no skills, you just learned “on the job.”

BC: Yeah, I watched my mom a lot and what she did. She honestly taught me everything I know about caregiving. She’s phenomenal at it, as well. I guess I kind of always wanted to learn from her. Most of it was hands-on, listening and observing and really wanting to learn to provide good care.

JR: How did it feel, growing up immersed in caregiving with this guy living in your house, taking care of him 24/7?

BC: It was difficult, we couldn’t do as many things anymore. I grew up traveling with my family in a motor home, so here we were, used to always going everywhere and doing things, and now we’re stuck at home all the time. Occasionally, she would hire somebody to come in and do some things. It was kind of a burden and a stressor for us, but at the same time, it was—now looking back—such a great experience to know what we did for him. I’ve taken that into my adult life, too. Always help people in bad situations because they need help and compassion.

At the time, it was a little overwhelming having my mom take care of him all the time. I remember fighting and saying things like, “You love him more than me,” but now, looking back, I’m grateful we did that for him. It was a huge thing to do for somebody.

JR: Now, as an adult working in the caregiving industry, you obviously take what you learned when you were younger and use it. What are the biggest lessons you bring with you every day when you’re on the job?

BC: In caregiving alone? It’s compassion. I’ve learned to be very compassionate and understanding and patient. I’ve learned that everybody’s views are not the same, so you really have to respect each individual as you would want to be respected.

JR: As far as the industry goes, what do you is the core issue that, if it was addressed, the industry would vastly improve?

BC: I don’t even know where to start on that. Really, it starts with the government providing more options and outlets for people with disabilities. There’s not a lot of help out there. I grew up with a brother who has Down Syndrome, and there’s just not a lot out there in terms of funds or things like that. People get stuck in bad situations simply because of the way they’re born or something that happened to them that they couldn’t help.

On the caregiving end, what really needs to change is that people are selfish nowadays, and that’s just being completely honest. It’s a very dog-eat-dog world–people tend to be more out for themselves–which I understand, but I think people need to stop thinking about themselves and what’s best for them and start thinking about what it’s like to be in [the client’s] shoes. I would have to say that’s the biggest thing that needs to change, and we need to bring back compassion.

The way I look at it is that I’ve had clients who were driving home after work one day and were hit by a car and never walked again. They didn’t ask for that. Their family didn’t ask for that. How would you want to be treated if something like that happened to you? Would you want people to just leave you because they’re not making enough money or it doesn’t fit in their time? You can always make time, but they can’t, because time is of the essence to them. So, I think we need to bring back more care and compassion.

JR: Where would you start to make those improvements? Would you start at the policy level, the employment level…?

BC: I guess, for me, when I train people, you can teach skill. It’s very easy to teach. You can become a super skilled caregiver with the right teaching; it’s a lot of common sense. But I think that we need to teach more about why we do this. I think that would fix a lot of problems if we truly mentor people and tell them, “Hey, you’re going to have days where you work long hours. You’re gonna get exhausted, your back’s gonna hurt.” But we need to remind them of why we do this. I like to remind everybody that you literally never know what’s going to happen. I could leave here today and wake up tomorrow paralyzed. You just don’t know. So, I think it’s teaching why and how to care for people in a compassionate, respectful way.

JR: It seems like people need to learn how to extend their empathy beyond their immediate family or friends.

BC: I’ve noticed we’re in a world where people take everything out on everybody. With your family, you build walls around you, and people don’t know how to leave that at home. They tend take things out on others and build walls around other people, and I think that if we go into things with our walls down and then build our walls up as we need to, it makes more sense. Others don’t deserve punishment because of what’s happened to you.

JR: Flipping that around, what about the caregivers who go in with their walls down and get emotionally attached and bring work home instead of bringing home to work? What advice would you give to people to go the opposite way and learn to leave work at work?

BC: Honestly, that one’s an iffy one for me. I think that when you go home you should focus on your family and you do need to take yourself away from that for a moment. But I also think you should never completely leave it behind, because if you’re worried about your clients, you’re thinking about them or whatever that may be, I think it’s a beautiful thing. I think it keeps caregivers motivated.

For me, when it’s 11 o’clock at night and somebody doesn’t show up for a shift, I don’t throw a fit. I do what I can to get childcare, and I go because I don’t wanna spend the rest of my night worrying whether or not a helpless person got care. So I think when you do take it home it actually is a beautiful thing, but just don’t take it out on others around you. There can be a balance to it.

JR: There are a lot of pieces floating around online right now about caregiver self-care and how to take care of yourself. When you do take that stuff home and care that much, how do you keep caring and also relieve that stress?

BC: Remember that you’re doing all you can do. You cannot take of someone else, just like you can’t love someone else, if you do not take care of or love yourself. I think it’s important to remember that it’s great to have empathy, it’s great to remember why you’re doing this and not leave it behind, but you can’t take care of other people if you’re not taking care of yourself. You just have to find that balance, and there is a way to find it. I have, over the last 15 years. I keep it with me, but I also let it go.

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