My mother was the first person to ever call me the C word. Here’s why she wasn’t the last.
It’s a day I’ll never forget. It started off in the usual way - taking my six-year-old child to school, then heading to the café with my 4 four-year-old son. Our café ritual was an important part of Master Four’s therapy. It was a chance to learn how to sit still in a restaurant, handle the noisy chaos and survive the pressure of placing an order.
We came to this particular café once a week. Over time, the chef got to know us. One day, during his break, he asked if I was a local. He then asked if I was a “housewife”.
“No,” I said automatically, “I’m a jour…”
And then I stopped. I was going to tell him I was a journalist. Because, that’s what I’d been doing for almost 20 years. I was ready to explain that I had lived overseas and worked on foreign news. I could have told him about Somalia. Or, why the Indian-Chinese border is a place to watch. But, I stopped myself. I realised that for the better part of a year, I hadn’t actually reported on any of those things. I hadn’t even stepped foot inside a newsroom.
Instead, I had quit my job to look after my kids who both have autism.
So, I corrected myself. “Yes”, I said, “I am a housewife”.
This really bothered me. So, when I arrived home, I called my mum.
“I’m a housewife!” I exclaimed.
“No, you’re not” she replied, “You’re a carer”.
I wasn’t a carer. Just a mum helping her children.
Many carers don’t realise that they are indeed carers. When life throws them a curve ball, they step up to catch it without even thinking. Then, eventually, they may step back from regular life. They may stop going out so much, or stop going out at all. They may stop going for promotions at work. Sometimes, as in my case, the transition is so gradual they don’t even realise it’s happening. Until one day, they’re sitting in a café and someone asks if they’re a housewife.
This gradual loss of identity is one of the most difficult and loneliest parts of being a carer. We aren’t seen as contributors, despite the fact that our unpaid labour saves the economy more than $60 billion a year.
My dad once told me how frustrated he felt when his well-meaning friends didn’t quite understand. Despite knowing I have two children with complex needs, they regularly asked if I’d “found a job yet”. He says he’s at the point where he doesn’t know what to say any more.
There was a time I would have felt the same way. But now, years after leaving my beloved career, I can tell him exactly what to say.
Tell them I have a job.
Tell them I’m a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a behavioural therapist. Tell them I’m a developmental psychologist, a teacher, a support worker. Tell them I’m a speciality chef, a white-goods mechanic, a cleaner. Tell them I’m a bus driver, a poison’s specialist, a pharmacist. Tell them I’m a neurologist, a gastroenterologist, a hazards reduction consultant. Tell them I’m a carer.
Oh, and tell them I’ve a few thoughts on Yemen too.
Briana Blackett is a jour… a carer. In a past life she covered foreign news for Al Jazeera and Associated Press TV. In her current life, she is an advocate for her two children who live with disability.