Seeing Susan Boyle as a Caregiver

Susan Boyle, before and after?

Susan Boyle, before and after?

Susan Boyle, the famous “unemployed Scottish Spinster” of “Britain’s Got Talent” fame has another story to tell.   She is also youngest daughter of eight children born to Irish immigrant parents who lived at home to care for her aging mother during the ten years following her father’s death.  Diagnosed with learning deficiencies due to a difficult birth, she may have had a hard time finding employment outside of her parents’ home, but thanks to the UK Carer’s Allowance, she probably had paid employment as her mother’s primary caregiver inside their home.  While I cannot speak to Ms. Boyle’s specific situation, it is the case that in Great Britain, as well as in Australia and several other EU countries, family members who care for a frail elderly or disabled relative on a live-in or live-out basis are eligible for income replacement from the state. 

These programs have been controversial in many ways:  conservatives worry that cash for care will erode the notion of self-sustaining families, that it might taint family relations and blur the line between “care” and “work”.   Some conservatives fear that this kind of caregiving remuneration will lead to an increase in elder abuse.  Liberals, and in particular feminists, worry that payment for family caregiving will create a pink collar ghetto of female caregivers living on subsistence wages while caring for their elderly parents.  Others worry that paying family members for care will deprive care receivers of the autonomy they might have in supervising an employee rather than a family member. 

These questions are worth considering.  However, we know that women provide the vast majority of care for the frail elderly, and in the United States, at least, the vast majority do so without any compensation.  They receive no more than the standard unpaid FMLA leave from employment, and many must choose between employment and caregiving or balancing childcare with eldercare, both of which are unpaid and socially undervalued.

This last point deserves special note: unpaid care work is accorded little or no social value.  In a recent article entitled, “Why Susan Boyle Makes Us Cry,” feminist activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin writes that Boyle’s sudden rise to stardum creates a collective lump in the throat because it makes us think of “the years of wasted talent, the career that wasn’t, the time lost…”  As if Ms. Boyle and others like her were locked in a closet. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s great that Ms. Boyle’s beautiful voice is being heard all over the world.  I listen to her sing before I start my writing workday.  But I think it’s a shame that so many of us think that the time she spent before she met Simon Cowell was wasted.

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8 Comments on “Seeing Susan Boyle as a Caregiver”

  1. chika Says:

    Girl you are an inspiration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    My children think that i am going mad but listening to you and watching you on that first appearance video gives me reasons to still hold on to my dreams.

    Enjoy your life darling. You are simply the best and that evidence that age is no barrier. Loads of love and respect.

  2. Magnus Says:

    I totally agree, the years caring for her mother weren’t wasted, just because she hadn’t started her career as a singer yet. you never know what those years were good for, maybe just for character builing (and the mum of course), in the end it worked out, that’s all that matters!

  3. Phil Says:

    I just think she is an awesome singer, regardless of her looks or brains!

  4. kathleen downey Says:

    i think susan is a great person and now she has found a good life,fare play to here lonely peole should have a life wish i was her x

  5. Mary Mason Says:

    You gave your best and, you have a God Given Talent. No matter what lies ahead for you, you will always be loved by many. Your CD “I Dreamed a Dream” is me all over. I don’t know about you but, I always felt misplaced and now I have found myself. I wish you all the love God has for YOU. Someone needs to make a movie of your life. There is no one like you. You are the best! Love you!

  6. Mathilde Malden Says:

    Je gaf je best en je hebt een God gegeven talent . Geen kwestie wat in het verschiet ligt voor jou, je zal altijd geliefd bij velen . Uw CD ” I Dreamed a Dream ” is mij allemaal voorbij. Ik weet niet over u , maar ik voelde altijd misplaatst en nu heb ik mezelf gevonden. Ik wens u allen de liefde die God voor je heeft . Iemand moet een filmpje maken van je leven. Er is niemand zoals jij. Je bent de beste ! Love you !

  7. ANN JOHNSON Says:

    I think Susan Boyle is a beautiful person,both inside and out.So many people look at the outside of people and never give them a chance because of their looks. I think she has a beautiful heart and looks to be a most wonderul person. I praise her for her talent and love to hear her sing. I’m so glad she came into our lives. God bless her,and I hope she gets everything she deserves. She is giving us so much with her singing.What a joy she is.

  8. Sandra Downs Says:

    Susan, you have brought new meaning to the word
    happiness. In this recession you are a refreshing
    new talent we have had the priviledge to hear and
    I hope you will continue to keep the CD’s coming.


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