Slow Caregiving is not about doing this work more slowly, although that’s sometimes what happens. It’s more about adopting a mindset, and choosing an attitude, which you then carry out in as many ways as you wish each day.
Slow Caregiving is rooted is what’s called the Slow Movement which had its unlikely beginnings in Italy in 1986. McDonald’s was about to open its first franchise in Rome. Such an idea did not go over well with food-conscious Italians. A protest movement sprang up, as protestors waved signs and brandished bowls of penne pasta at the site where fast food was about to invade their country.
What did they object to? Food that was not the most healthy. Food which was shipped in from elsewhere, having been prepared in bulk. Food associated with a conglomerate rather than locally-owned operations. Food that was cooked quickly, served impersonally and presented unappealingly. And food that was designed to be eaten swiftly too, clearing the way for another paying customer to sit down.
These Italians didn’t want fast food—they wanted slow food. They wanted to linger over a meal, to savor all the tastes, to leisurely enjoy one another’s company.
The Slow Food Movement took hold and before long it spread into other directions—Slow Living, Slow Travel, Slow Cities, Slow Architecture, among other approaches.
And now I’m proposing Slow Caregiving—caregiving that is done not unthinkingly but thoughtfully. Caregiving that is not always in a rush to be completed but in an easy, more relaxed manner as often as feasible. Care that is provided not with absoluteness but with a certain flexibility, not with aloofness but with kindness.
If Slow Caregiving isn’t necessarily done slowly, then what are its earmarks?
- Above all else, Slow Caregiving means that you make yourself fully present to the other person as you provide your care, whether they are aware of what you are doing or not. (In time, they probably will be.)
- You hold the one in your care in deep regard. Perhaps you love them, perhaps you respect them, perhaps you are simply concerned for them. Whatever your feelings, you value them for who they are, for what they’re going through, for what they’re facing, and for what they must be doing on their own.
- You give each act of care its appropriate time and attention. You refrain from moving quickly through each act, ready to check it off your list when it’s done. Sometimes you linger. Sometimes you may pause and converse. Sometimes you choose not to “do for” but to “be with.”
- You also pay attention to yourself as a caregiver, monitoring your energy, your desires, your feelings. You do not neglect your own needs but you strive to find ways to meet those needs without compromising your caregiving responsibilities. In doing so, you realize you’ll be a much better caregiver.
- You allow others to provide care with you and for you so you’re not entirely on your own. You look for alliances and supportive relationships. You guard against any loneliness that caregiving sometimes engenders.
- You remain alert for and open to any of those daily experiences that offer you beauty, joy, and contentment, knowing that you must sometimes be proactive in doing this.
- You make time to reflect upon the lessons you’re learning and any meaning you’re finding. This may include sharing these insights with others, including possibly the one in your care.
- If your situation allows for it, you develop a reciprocity with the one in your care so that you are not only and always on the giving end of things, which requires that they be always and only on the receiving end of things. You remember they usually want to give to you in some ways too, even if it’s very different from the kind of giving you do.
- You locate yourself always in your body, bringing this dimension of who you are to your caregiving, calling upon and utilizing all your senses. You bring also your mind, your heart, and your soul so that the fullness of who you are can meet the fullness of who this other person is.
In other words, remembering how limiting the fast food approach to eating and to life can be, and how limiting and unfulfilling fast caregiving can be, you provide other options. You do this both for yourself and the other person. You hurry only if the situation absolutely requires it. You make it a point to savor what there is to savor. You take time to connect, to communicate, to reach out, to touch. You look people in the eye as you talk. You place value on the congenial, the convivial, the hospitable. You stay open to the possibilities. You trust. You affirm. You hold hope.
Mostly, you just care, the Slow way.