Day 30: What Is ‘Normal’?

12088382_10153041407061104_5455399616504024078_nThe last couple of days have reminded me why I keep this blog: that the process of writing, and dialogue with others, brings me to new understandings. So in Sunday’s post I mused on my contact with Dylan since he moved into care, wondering how I could maintain this while keeping on top of home chores. By the following day, however, I had realised the issue was not the pattern of Dylan’s visits, or the challenge of chores, but the meaning which domestic routines had acquired in the years that I’d been a carer. Dylan’s move to residential care meant I had to establish new routines, I reflected, based on a discourse of self care.

But I have continued to think about my contact with Dylan. ‘You’ll find your own way’, the home manager told me when I asked her what was ‘normal’, ‘every situation is different’. We get some of our ideas about what is ‘normal’, I suspect, from fly-on-the-wall documentaries which we watch partly to reassure ourselves that we are ‘within range’. This is particularly so of programmes which focus on everyday contexts, such as the family or schools, but is also true of documentaries from less everyday locations (prisons or the House of Commons, for example). Our main reason for watching, I suspect, is to observe other human beings in social situations and ask ourselves how we would react in their shoes.

Similarly, in our everyday encounters we check that we are ‘within range’; our conversations with other parents, for example, allow us to review our own parenting decisions. Whether we are conscious of it or not, this calibration of self in relation to others happens continuously. The need for this is no less great in relation to care homes but, sadly, the only programmes set in care homes I can recall seeing are those filmed secretly in order to expose abuse. Why aren’t there more (and more positive) representations of residential care I wonder? The lack of touchstones means there is little to orient, much less measure, ourselves by when supporting a relative through care. Dylan’s home manager was right that ‘what is normal?’ isn’t the right question in this situation, but I still find myself looking over my shoulder at other parents.

A girlfriend, for example, visits her father in his care home virtually every day (she has recently set up this lovely blog). Caroline lives near to the care home, however, and works freelance which makes visiting easier – and perhaps the contexts of elder care and autism/learning disability cannot always be compared. When I asked Dylan’s care home manager about visits she mentioned (as illustration) a parent who spends time at the home with her daughter each week. I haven’t been able to do this with Dylan so far; when I arrive he expects to go out immediately and when we return he assumes I will leave. I’ve no idea whether Dylan has had contact with other parents as it’s not something he could tell me – just as the other residents wouldn’t tell their visitors that they have seen me.  But they have seen me; some of the residents even recognise me now I think (and I confess to having developed a soft spot for one of them).

I am slowly building up the time I linger at the home with Dylan but I suspect his preference may always be to keep his  two worlds separate. In this, Dylan is not unlike any young man re-negotiating his relationship with a parent having left home. In class today I explained to students (who have also just left home) that parental involvement can make a difference to educational outcomes. Is it also the case, I wondered to myself, that parents can affect the outcomes of residential care? The sooth that parenting doesn’t come with a guide book also holds for parenting a child in care.

4 thoughts on “Day 30: What Is ‘Normal’?

  1. What a lovely photo of you and Dylan!
    Interesting point you make about what a ‘typical’/ ‘normal’ relative/ visitor in a care home might behave like. I think I probably visit more than most relatives, so have developed my own niche there, helped by staff who patiently listen to my latest request – it was all about the length and comfort of the bed today….. I think you’re right that visiting most days makes a big difference in settling more quickly into a pattern and way of being, and, like you with Dylan, I do tend to take Dad out when possible, so that’s become part of my pattern there as well.

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  2. I have contact with other parents at the sportsfield. The other children are older than my son, usually are epileptic and their children go into care and into protected jobs (I don’t know the English word). I hear them being involved as I was with my children when they were younger, but now they share the care with institutions. The parents do it differently according to their attitude, I guess.

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    • Hi Karen – nice to hear from you. Ah yes – I think we would say ‘supported employment’. I think this notion of shared care – or partnership – is at the heart of it. And I agree that there are probably as many different versions of it as there are parents, depending on attitude and what suits and feels right. I can imagine this could be quite challenging for the care home, having to develop different ways of working with different families. But increasingly I think its success is at the heart of things, really. I hope your son is doing OK Karen and that this new school year is bringing good things for him…

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  3. Pingback: Day 45: No Spitting | Living with/out Autism

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