Why Men Should Care About Their Care

A friend and I sat for coffee at a picnic table in a Costco store. It was the only place with seating near where we planned to meet. Her husband completed a few rounds of physical therapy after surgery for a broken femur bone. She’d been caring for him for several years, following colon cancer, a diagnosis of hydrocephalus and now his broken bone. Given her worries about his periodic lack of initiative, I asked, “Can he get up and make a sandwich for lunch?” She responded, “Yes.” Then I responded, “Tell him to make two. One for him, one for you.”

My friend was raised in an era when women were responsible for not only the house but for keeping their man happy and alive.

Times change. Despite the designation of “caregiver” for the one spouse who is healthy, men are now researching more about their medical needs, buying the groceries recommended by the dietitian and taking charge of their own care. My mother had to remind her husband to get a haircut. Years later, my husband knows to practice yoga when, after being on his feet all day as a physician, his spinal alignment is not in balance.

Men are also taking on the weight of that care, the mental burden of thinking about their bodies, their health and lunch—tasks that had fallen on women’s shoulders for too long.

Addressing Health Care

Making appointments and showing up for tests are easy. Men easily ace those types of exams unless, of course, a serious, more complex issue is discovered. It’s the ongoing nature of upkeep, maintenance and doing the little things for their care where men often stumble.

Once men have completed health care tasks, where things are done for them or to them such as a needle prick or taking blood pressure, next comes caring for their health, which implies taking a proactive role – like changing the oil, taking the initiative to start a new diet, or lead the meal planning efforts in the household or for themselves. My son and my two sons-in-law are responsible for most of their family’s grocery shopping. My father was occasionally sent out on grocery runs, but most of the trips were made by my mother with kids in tow to carry the bags. I work from home and the grocery task often falls to me on my lunch hour. However, my husband occasionally offers to make dinner with whatever I had planned, including leftovers.

Finding Independence in the Role

There are plenty of reasons for my friend’s husband to make his own sandwich. First, the chore keeps him off the couch and away from the television. Second, it frees my friend’s time and offers her husband independence and control, a healthy approach to strengthen their marriage. And third, given his preferences, he might create a better sandwich for himself.

The more women can let go of roles, however difficult due to the axiom of “I’ll do it myself,” the greater the opportunity for men to take on the mental load of thinking about their care. It’s also important for women to set an example without enforcing it. Psychologist Alan Dienstag says when individuals are around others who are doing an activity, this serves as a powerful enticement to do it themselves. I’ve been on a 30-day yoga journey since the beginning of January. In a recent conversation, my husband slid in the fact he had participated in the video series too. My friend gave her husband his own calendar to set his appointments. Now, it’s a job for him.

How else can men approach caregiving?

Normalizing Men as Caregivers Helps Families and Society, a paper by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, proposes men need to take on caring for themselves, offering benefits for them when they are more involved as caregivers to others around them. Their primary findings demonstrate men are changed when they are in the caregiving role of children or families, and stereotypes that include the incompetent male need to be eliminated, as decades of research have proved this is no longer true.

That same research is quoted, “Fair divisions of work and care mean women are less stressed and can be more present for their children and/or loved ones with disabilities. Children in turn benefit from having equal fun, academic, and personal time with dad – which also benefits them developmentally.” We can eliminate the self-perpetuating, “Can you make me a sandwich?” in generations to come.

Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer, speaker, and author of I’ll Have Some of Yours, a journey of cookies and caregiving. (Three Arch Press). A frequent contributor to Cincinnati.com, her work has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, nextavenue.com, Still Point Arts, 3rd Act Magazine, Ovunque Siamo, Belt Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, and Italian Americana (forthcoming). Visit annettejwick.substack.com to learn more.