Not Everyone Is Cut Out To Be a Caregiver

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We are all unique individuals with different talents and flaws. Often, our so-called flaws are merely ways in which we differ with ever-changing societal expectations.

For example, when people marry, it used to be a given that they would have children if at all possible. Currently, a significant number of couples choose not to have children.

Are they selfish? No. They simply know what they want out of their lives, and being parents isn't likely the best choice for them, or their potential children.

Similarly, some people may have the insight to recognize that they wouldn't be able to provide quality day in and day out hands-on care for a beloved parent. They may have spent decades building careers that they love, encouraged by the parents who now need care, or they may be people to whom patience is not natural and a repetitive daily grind would become numbing.

Are these bad people? No. Selfish people? Again, no. Or at least most of them are not. They simply don't have the personality makeup for the repetitive, nurturing task of long-term hands-on caregiving for vulnerable adults.

Respecting different approaches to caregiving is something we all need to strive to achieve.

Most of these people love their parents. They will visit their parents. They most likely will arrange competent care and monitor their parents' wellbeing. They will handle financial issues.

In actuality, they are providing care, though they are not 100 percent involved. I explain how this administrative aspect is a valuable part of caregiving in my AgingCare article "When Do You Become a Caregiver?"

People forced to give personal care against their natural instincts may do okay for awhile, and sometimes that's all that is needed.

But, caregiving often has a way of stretching out into a long-term commitment, and in these cases there is a significant prospect that day-to-day caregiving would backfire for those adult children and their care receivers. The caregivers would eventually resent their role and could come to resent their parents neediness, as well.

Resentment is a powerful thing. It eats at the heart of the person carrying the grudge. It builds until it takes on a life of its own, so that even the most talented actor can't hide their underlying resentment from the care receiver. Resentment reveals itself in body language. It comes out in tone of voice. And yes, in extreme cases, it explodes into abuse.

If you are one of these people who has the insight to know that you aren't cut out to be a hands-on caregiver, you are to be commended for your ability to take an honest look at yourself and not flinch from who you are. Nurturing isn't your strong point and you honestly admit that.

Perhaps, however, you are being too hard on yourself. As mentioned above, the definition of a caregiver isn't a cut and dried job description, identical for everyone. Some people can handle a few weeks of providing hands-on care, but cannot continue with that role for months or years.

That is okay.

Caregiving involves blends of advocacy, management and personal care.

It involves arranging transportation to medical appointments for our loved ones, whether or not we are the person accompanying an elder to the appointment. It involves deciding—together with the elder, when possible—if or when it's time to move the elder from the family home into assisted living or a nursing home.

Many people who say they aren't "cut out to be a caregiver" are providing some or all of this assistance. However, since nurturing, hands-on care isn't their strength, they turn that type of care over to others more suited or better qualified.

Most people feel they should contribute to the care of their aging parents in some way. I agree, unless there's been a history of serious abuse by that parent or other issues where limited or no contact is advisable.

However, 100 percent involvement in parent care isn't required for you to be considered a good, caring person.

Do what you can; understand what it really means to 'just do your best.' Show your parents that you love them by obtaining the best care you can for them. That could include supporting a willing sibling, financially and otherwise, who may be more suited than you to providing hands-on care. Or it may mean hiring outside help.

Then drop the guilt for not fitting into a societal mold that may be too narrow. No one can do everything all of the time. Make the best use of your strengths and help others use theirs. Your actions will reflect well on the parents who raised you.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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33 Comments

Agree with Kedwards, I never had kids either, so this is the first time in my life I have had to be responsible 24/7 for anyone, and at my age it is not easy! I too wish I had never moved dad in and went straight to assisted living. Our relationship is suffering now and it would have better for both of us had I never "tried to do the right thing". I love him but I cannot work now, so it appears I am now in retirement, which was not my plan! Thanks for this article, because so many people seem to judge me because I am not overjoyed with the fact that my 89 year old dad with dementia is living with me. I wake up with guilt and go to bed with guilt, and live out my day in frustration.
This is exactly why I went looking for some help this morning after a horrible Mothers Day. I have told anyone who would listen that I am not a caregiver, did not want children and was very happy with my life with husband, goats, chickens, donkey and dogs in the country. 2 years ago my father died at 86 after a good life and a short illness. My father and I got along like 2 peas in a pod, I miss him everyday. My 82 year old mother was going to move to some property that my sister and her husband have in a small mobile home. 5 weeks after my father died, my 50 year old sister dropped dead from heart attack - this was during the move with my mother. So all things stopped - my mother was frantic to move, we were both in shock and grief, so we bought a mobile home and moved her onto our land in the country. Our lives will never be the same - I am the oldest of 3 kids and my brother died at 36 and then my sister died. I am 63 and in no way wishing to be a caregiver, but there is no one else. She drives me crazy almost everyday, my new life consists of doctors appointments and more doctor appts. She is able to live on her own but she has limitations due to her age and arthritis. We live about 25 miles from a small town and 65 from a larger town so every appt requires lots of driving time. I am just feeling so "put upon" and she is in my everyday business. My mother and I have never gotten along well and having nothing in common. It was always the joke between my sister and I that she would have to take care of her. The joke is on me! I just needed a place to vent until I can think of something to do for my own sanity.
This is such a good article. I knew I wasn't cut out for this. NOT that I'm not a caring person but I never had kids, never wanted kids, so maybe I just don't have that nurturing strength. I try to do my best but I do resent the 24/7 365 this has become because now I have no job, no social life, no financial security (mom has a living will and I will get 'everything' but I see the future and she's going to need every bit of that for a NH which her LTC only covers 2 yrs of and she will need more). Wish she had gone into AL when she was able and I had been able to be more of a facilitator of her ADL not the 24/7 hands on girl. 20/20 hindsight isn't a beautiful thing!