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When Caregiving Isn't For You


I receive a lot of emails from family caregivers. Every heart-felt note is filled with emotion. Some are sad, some are anxious, others are angry or resentful, and still others are proud or even hopeful. You name the emotion, and I have an email from a caregiver oozing with it.

After all these years of listening to your stories, one recent email caught me off-guard and had me thinking well after I hit the reply button.

This caregiver (we’ll call her Emma) wasn't upset. She wasn't anxious, angry, or even delighted by her role caring for her parents. As I read on, I thought I had pin-pointed the emotion in the email. At first, I thought she was feeling guilty.

You see, Emma was confessing that she purposefully turned down the task of caring for her aging parents. But there was no remorse or guilt in her words. She didn't express that she wished she could have, or regret that she didn't at least try. She wasn't feeling guilty at all.

Emma’s words were meant to express the other side – the side that we often look at as uncaring or selfish. Her story challenged the way I looked at those who opt out of the caregiving role. Perhaps I was wrong when I assigned words like insensitive or self-centered.

In her email, Emma said, “Let’s face it; we’re not all cut out to provide care for someone. That doesn't mean we don’t care.”

She’s right. Not everyone has the constitution to be a caregiver. And that’s okay. As Emma stated in her email, you can still care. Of course that doesn't mean just crossing your fingers and hoping everything works out.

Emma pointed out that she had prepared for the day her parents would need more help; help she wasn't capable of providing herself. “I knew pretty early on that I wouldn't be the daughter who moved her parents in with her, or drive them to appointments, so I had to make sure we were organized and prepared.”

She encouraged her mom and dad to purchase long-term care policies by the time they were sixty. She helped her parents get all the legal documents they needed by setting them up with a friend who was lawyer. Emma said she even has some money set aside in case her parents’ care requires it.

Sometimes, letting go of the caregiving responsibilities is what everyone needs. By hiring a professional caregiver, you give your parents the dignity of being independent, and you give yourself the freedom to simply enjoy your time with Mom and Dad. So if you feel like you’re not up for caregiving, take Emma’s words to heart. You can care without being a caregiver.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. May 8, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Posted by Jim

    I'm struggling caring for my mother who is 82. I've been looking after her since my step-father died in 2009. I have 2 brothers but only have a relationship with 1 of them at the moment. My mother and I are very different people and we argue alot. once at least every 2 weeks. She drags me into arguing about things in the past that I have no patience or energy for. I'm the only one who takes her to her appointments and shopping,etc plus my full-time job. she is very unorganized and it drives me crazy. I have to run around constantly and feel burned out alot of the time. I think I need to hire someone else to help out because my life has become pretty miserable dealing with her and her crazy arguments.(I'm talking hours of arguing) Any advice for me? I'd love to just run off. Sad but true at this point.


  2. May 7, 2015 at 4:14 pm | Posted by Leigh

    My mother is convinced my father is not trying hard enough to help himself by eating heartily and moving around to keep up his health. As a colon cancer patient, he complains that he is not hungry and it is hard to breath when he moves around. The doctors agree he needs to eat to have energy and move around to prevent getting weaker. The choice is his but it is hard for us to watch him allow his choices make him worse.


    • June 11, 2015 at 5:54 pm | Posted by Kristi

      I' d like to comment on the story regarding the gentleman that is getting weaker and is refusing to move around at the request of his family, and is not hungry, and finding it hard to breath. One of the hardest lessons to learn regarding being a caregiver, is unconditional love. Caregivers want the BEST for their clients and especially at end stage want their clients to "keep fighting to live." However clts, whether its your loved one or not may have decided, " they have had enough and want to go." We are NOT standing in their shoes and don't know how much they are suffering. One of the worst things you can do to another person is take away their choice and autonomy. Its all they have left. When you force feed a person who is dying ( to strengthen them) and they have started refusing food, you are prolonging their agony. Their bodily organs have started to go into shutdown mode and their bodies have to work even harder to try to digest and you are causing them more pain. People know when "it's time," Don't feed them out of YOUR desire to keep them around longer.


      • June 12, 2015 at 8:02 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

        Thank you for your comment, Kristi. It is a difficult time for everyone, and finding the courage to put your emotions aside and do what's best for your loved one can be difficult.


  3. May 7, 2015 at 1:09 pm | Posted by Danita

    This is the most refreshing article I have ever read! I feel such a sense of relief! As I am usually angry with myself for feeling I don't provide the best of care!


  4. May 7, 2015 at 11:08 am | Posted by Jackie

    My Mom is heading to 88, and has lived with us for 13 years. I have no choice but to be a caregiver, since she dropped her long term care insurance a long time ago when I didn't even realize it. I've been home for 6 years and I feel very isolated. I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers who have the same attitude as this person - they will not touch the subject with a ten foot pole. So here we are in our 50's - 40's are long gone.. no one will step up and do the right thing. I am stunned that my family is so selfish and has left me (the youngest) and my husband to bear 100% of this responsibility. Things will never be the same.


    • June 11, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Posted by Kristi

      Unfortunately, you really find out where peoples hearts are, when a sacrifice is required, to give of ones self, when loved ones age. Its even worse when the loved one dies and then the vultures really gather for the inheritance. As a PSW I've seen it more times than I would care to admit. However, all you can control is what you and your husband ARE doing. If you focus on your mom and the difference you are making in HER LiFE, and not the selfishness of your family, it will give you joy instead of resentment. She is blessed to have you both.


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