Social cringe?

“Strengths-based” is a popular buzzword for encouraging Kiwis to address challenges in a positive, proactive way. 

Instead of saying “life is bloody hard on a benefit and I haven’t been able to find a job” we might say “being unemployed is an opportunity to learn new skills and branch out into new directions, finding employment I might never have considered or thought possible before I was made redundant”. 

It’s uncertain whether the strengths-based debate is designed to make government feel good, or those it serves, or both, but the message (while no doubt meant to be supportive) can be galling when applied to underdogs like carers. 

Chirpy messages that minimise carers’ often highly stressful role do little to make them feel valued and understood.

The pressure to overstate the positives of family caregiving and say little or nothing about the downsides is real. 

There is something unwholesome about the current policy trend to uplift individual disabled people and their aspirations while trivialising the impacts of disability on carers and families. 

“Don’t use language that makes people feel they are a burden to their family carers” is a common finger wag … as though anyone providing intensive support could continue if they genuinely regarded a loved one as a burden. 

But nor should government, society, or families shrink from the reality that providing long-term significant support can be life-limiting for the carer; the responsibilities of caring can, indeed, be burdensome. 

I could bang on about the swag of evidence relating to carer depressioncompassion fatigueinjuries, and anxiety disorders

But that would be tiresome.

Perhaps it’s enough to give a quiet reminder that when one is ill or has significant support needs, if they live with others, at least one other person is affected. 

In such situations the meaning of “strengths-based” stretches beyond trendy academic rhetoric to one’s bank balance, having a roof over one’s head, the emotional reserves to carry on, and food in the cupboard. 

The milk of human kindness would be nice too … a bit of compassion for carers, whose lives aren’t always easy.

And that’s the truth.

Let’s not cringe away from it.

Laurie Hilsgen is the chief executive of national peak body Carers NZ, a family/whanau carer, and editor of Family Care magazine. See the latest issue at