Frontline Initiative: Making Direct Support a Career

What our Family Needs From You as You Support Mom

Author(s)

Jennifer Cunningham utilizes DSP supports for her mother who lives in her home in Jackson, Tennessee. She can be reached at jennifer.cunningham@star-center.org.

Our mother became sick with polio as a toddler in 1946. She had specialized treatments and surgeries through her childhood and early teen years. She was privileged to go on to lead a productive life, with little more than a limp and an occasional fall. As medical professionals ourselves, we knew that post-polio syndrome would eventually limit Mom’s ability to get around and care for herself. The muscles affected so long ago would begin to weaken once again. That was five years ago. She now stays in bed all the time. I have been her primary caregiver while raising two beautiful daughters and maintaining a full-time job. I will be the first to admit that being a caregiver is not an easy task.

We are fortunate that Mom received daily care in our home from direct support professionals (DSPs). Over the years, DSPs have come and gone, mostly by their choice. All I have ever asked of the DSPs who come into our home is to show up and support Mom. The really good ones do more than that. I am not talking about doing the laundry, cooking, and house cleaning. Having reliable, supportive DSPs for Mom makes life a little easier for me.

All I have ever asked of the DSPs who come into our home is to show up and support Mom. Having reliable, supportive DSPs for Mom makes life a little easier for me.

Jennifer Cunningham

When considering DSPs to come into our home and support Mom, there are several qualities that are important to us.

  • Be responsible and loyal. Your job is to show up when you are scheduled and follow through on your commitments to us. Trust me, we have heard all of the excuses. There are only so many flat tires and stomach viruses you can have in a week. Remember, if you don’t show up for work that means that I can’t either.
  • Show respect and kindness for Mom and her loved ones. If you ever called our home and spoke with Mom, you would never know that she stares at the same four walls all day every day. One time, there was a nurse who called the home and spoke with Mom. She then called me to confirm that Mom was the patient she was to visit. Mom’s attitude is filled with hope, kindness, and consideration for others. She has many friends who call daily and stop by on occasion. It is important to all of us that her DSPs show respect and kindness to Mom, as well as for her family and friends.
  • Be trustworthy and honest. You are essentially strangers that we let into our home. You are unsupervised for hours at a time. You must be reliable to do the right thing. We need you to always be truthful. We have been very fortunate over the years to have DSPs who hold high moral standards.

When all is said and done, our DSPs are like family. The DSPs who have excelled in our home have certainly been skilled, but they also show love, not just love for Mom, but love for their direct support profession. In the words of Mother Teresa, “It is not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”