Caring: A Family Affair
Caring: A Family Affair

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Caring: A Family Affair

3 Care: a loaded word

3.1 What do we mean by the word ‘care’?

‘Care’ is a loaded word. Care is not just about tender loving feelings, it is about work as well. Being seen as someone who needs care says something about a person – their competence, their position in society, their status. This section explores those meanings.

In the poem which opened the unit, care is a warm ‘feel good’ word, associated with what happens in nice families. But in the discussion of what a carer is in Section 1, it seemed that doing care was also hard work for Lynne and Katrina. Care is a familiar word, yet it isn't a word Lynne used about the work she does in the household. In fact, the only time the word passes her lips is when she mentions ‘the home cares’. On the other hand, the paid staff in the drama refer to ‘care packages’, ‘community care’, ‘care skills’ and ‘care needs’. ‘Care’ is a word that they use frequently.

So care has a variety of meanings. It is a technical term when used by professionals, and it denotes some kind of work. When it is used by ordinary people like Anastasia Lee-Harmony, it has something to do with love, emotion and protection. What do we mean when we use the word ‘care’? This is the subject of the next activity, which involves doing some very basic research.

Activity 7 What does ‘care ‘mean?

0 hours 30 minutes

1. Do some research about what care means. Ask as many people as possible to give you an instant one-word or one-phrase answer to the question, ‘What do you understand by the word “care”?’ After you have done this, think of your own one-word or one-phrase answers.

If you cannot do this, look in newspapers or magazines, listen to the radio or watch TV, and make a list of ideas associated with care that you find.

2. To try to make sense of the jumble of ideas associated with care it is helpful to use some broader concepts.

I asked a range of people what they think care means. Some of the ideas they came up with are listed below. In which of the two categories would you put each of these words and phrases?

loving making a cake
cuddling changing nappies
making phone calls changing soiled bedding
healing looking after people
doing things for other people taking pains for
feeding someone bothering about
cooking for my family avoiding anger
affection protection


Here are my ideas.

You have already encountered the idea that care is doing something for someone. We'll call this care work.

Care work
Doing things for other people; feeding someone; changing nappies; changing soiled bedding; looking after people.

These are like the tasks in the ‘What informal carers do’ box (Section 1.2). They fit one definition, drawn up to describe the sort of care nurses do: ‘Doing for the patient [tasks] which if they were physically or mentally fit they would be able to do for themselves’ (Henderson, 1960, p. 3).

Some of the other ideas could be described as expressions of love or affection.

Care – love or affection
Loving; cuddling; making phone calls; taking pains for; bothering about; protection.

But some things seem to come into both categories. ‘Making a cake’ for example, is both a task and, often, a way of expressing affection, as is ‘cooking for my family’. In these cases, love or affection is expressed through doing something. This might also be true of ‘healing’ and ‘protection’.

Broadly then, ‘care’ might mean both work and love. We can draw a distinction between:

  • work: ‘caring for’ someone – undertaking the physical or ‘tending’ tasks they might need


  • love: ‘caring about’ them – feeling affection, liking, love, wanting to protect.

Sometimes the two go together – people often express affection through doing things for other people.

Activity 8: Categorising ‘care’

0 hours 5 minutes

Try putting the list of words and phrases you came up with into the two categories. Note any that do not seem to fit, and any that fit into both ‘work’ and ‘love’ boxes. As you work through the rest of Section 2, you may find that you can see where the strays go.


To return to the case study, does Lynne care for Arthur? She doesn't seem to care about her father much, does she? Although she is a daughter, and therefore might be expected to feel, at least, affection for her father, she appears to actively dislike and fear him. There are no expressions of affection or love, no cakes. Care as work – or care for him – is a different matter. To the extent that she performs some care work in the household, we might argue that Lynne is a carer, but not a very affectionate one!

Study skills: Studying actively

You have come across several activities now. How are you approaching them? Do you stop to think and make notes? Do you spend the amount of time suggested? Or are you tempted to skip straight to the discussion after the activities?

As a learner you are free to approach your studies as you think best. In fact, to do well, it is important that you achieve a sense of control over your own patterns of study. You need to be able to think strategically and make your own choices about how much time to give to each element. But so that you can allocate your time wisely, we should explain the purpose of the activities.

The point of studying is to learn new ideas. That takes more than just reading. It requires you to think for yourself as you go along. The activities are there to engage your thoughts – to help you make connections between your existing knowledge and experience and what you are reading about.

To make proper use of the activities you need to have a pen and notepad with you when you study. Writing down a few thoughts of your own is the essence. It turns study from a mainly passive process of ‘soaking up’ to an active process of ‘making sense’. The activities are very varied and some are quite challenging. But even if you can't get fully to grips with some, just get something jotted down before looking at our comments after the activity. Then you can compare your own thoughts with our notes. Often our notes will look quite different from yours. That doesn't matter. It is the effort of concentration in jotting down your own notes – and the stimulus to your thinking when you compare them with ours – which help lodge new ideas in your head.

Your notes from activities can be a very useful resource. It's a good idea to keep them all together in a folder. The activities are numbered, which should help you keep your folder in order.

We give a rough time guide for each activity. It's up to you whether you spend more or less time.


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