Not Everyone Is Cut Out To Be a Caregiver

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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