The 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.