The ever-reliable, always-interesting Bill Schambra has a very good piece over at NPQ on the difficulties of caring for one’s parents in a managerial age. Schambra highlights the ways in which the professional management of care has a tendency to fracture not only the nature of the care, but the person receiving it.

The frantic juggling act by which we try to hold the stream of services together around just one person like my mother is simply an outward sign of this larger complexity, for which professionalism itself has no response—although it tries. Care coordination meetings, one-stop social service centers, block grants, collaborative coalitions…all these are clumsy institutional devices to try to put back together the person previously subdivided into serviceable parts. But sooner or later, the systems show up with these problems on the doorstep of the nonprofit sector—on your doorstep.

Schambra highlights the ways in which non-profits are better at maintaining the integrity and dignity of the person than are public agencies, with their specialization, regulations (read: restrictions), and siloing of care. The latter tend to look at social needs, at the elderly as a problem to be solved, and care about measurable outcomes more than the person. (What parent has ever evaluated the way they raise their children with reference to “measurable outcomes?”)

One thought that occurred to me while reading Schambra’s excellent essay with its Tocquevillian overtones: his ability to participate in his mother’s care is in part accomplished by having the means available to make the flight from DC to MI. But what of those whose children, spread around the country, have no such means? Placed into the eldercare-complex, these individuals are going to experience tremendous fracturing and dehumanization, at high costs, both social and financial. In a world where children no longer can nor will reciprocate dependent care with their parents, the professionalization of care is a troubling second option. Detailed discussions concerning public programs, often offered as an alternative to civil society in an age of hypermobility, ought to consider class distinctions.

Highly recommended.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


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