1 Playing roles together
Care relationships are seldom just a matter of ‘doing what come naturally’. For one thing, you may be caring for, or being cared for, by someone you would not otherwise get on with. A care relationship has to adapt to circumstances: it may be brief, as in an acute hospital ward, or it may be very long lasting; it may be flexible according to need or it may involve a high degree of regularity. It is a distinctive relationship with unique elements. Some of the things you and the other person have to do together are very different from what goes on within other relationships. What is more, you need to be able to conduct a care relationship in a calm and consistent way, without the fallings out and reconciliations that can occur in many other kinds of relationship.
In other words, a care relationship has to be specially ‘constructed’. This is true even when the care relationship is built on an existing family relationship. You are not simply relating to someone according to your personal inclination. You have a particular kind of role to play. Moreover, the other person has a role too. In fact, your two roles go together as a matching pair – carer and receiver of care. The one role implies the other. A care relationship involves both parties enacting their roles together in a co-ordinated way.
But this role-playing is not necessarily harmonious. Take Reg Martin and his home helps, for example (click on the link below to read a transcript of Reg's thoughts on his home helps). According to him, a new person would come in and say something like, ‘I’m your home help. Now what do you want me to clean?’ This might seem a very reasonable question to ask but Reg did not like it at all. He said, ‘I could never understand a home help asking such a question … you shouldn’t need to ask. But they insisted and I couldn’t cope … I decided that this was a bad no go.’ Reg seems to have developed such a hostility to this question that he was about to give up the home help service. How can we make any sense of such a strong reaction to an apparently polite and helpful question?
Click to read an excerpt of an interview with Reg Martin.