Each of us is unique, with our own talents and flaws. Often, our so-called faults are merely ways in which we differ from society’s ever-changing expectations of us.
For example, it used to be a given that married couples would have children if possible. Currently, a significant number of couples are choosing to be childfree. Are they selfish? No. They simply know what they want out of their lives and understand that being parents probably isn’t the best choice for them or their potential children. Similarly, some people have the insight to recognize that they wouldn’t be able to provide daily hands-on care for a beloved parent. They may have spent decades building careers that they love with the support and encouragement of the parents who now need help at home. They may be people to whom patience does not come naturally or abundantly. Perhaps nurturing is simply not their strong suit. Not everyone is a natural caregiver. Do these qualities make them bad people? No. Selfish people? Again, no. BEING A CAREGIVER IS A CHOICE Most individuals who choose not to be primary caregivers simply don’t have the characteristics, time or resources needed to sustain the daily provision of long-term care for a vulnerable adult. It’s likely that these people truly love their parents and, even if they don’t have a solid relationship, they at least feel moral concern for their well-being.
Just because someone decides against personally providing total care to a loved one doesn’t necessarily constitute indifference or abandonment. Many will visit, arrange other sources of care (ie. hiring a home care company), handle financial issues, monitor their parents’ well-being and advocate for them. In actuality, they are providing a degree of care, even though they are not responsible for 100 percent of their care recipients’ needs. CAREGIVING COMES WITH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES People who are “forced” to become family caregivers against their natural instincts may do okay for awhile, and sometimes that’s all that is needed. But caregiving often has a way of evolving into a long-term commitment that gradually becomes more intense. In these cases, there is a significant chance that day-to-day caregiving will backfire for these families. The caregivers might eventually resent their role and could come to resent their parents’ neediness as well. In fact, even adult children who eagerly volunteered to become their parents’ primary caregivers can find themselves in this predicament.
Resentment is a powerful emotion and a key contributor to caregiver burnout. 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 feelings from their care receiver. Burnout causes many to wake up each morning thinking, “I don’t want to be a caregiver anymore.” Resentment reveals itself in body language. It comes out in one’s tone of voice. And, yes, in extreme cases, it can rear its ugly head in the form of neglect or abuse.
Certainly, many people give caregiving a shot, settle into a routine and find that the effort and the sacrifice are well worth it. AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report found that 51 percent of caregivers feel their role has given them a sense of purpose or meaning in life. However, this beneficial aspect of caregiving is often accompanied by feelings of loneliness and physical, emotional and financial strain. The decision to become a caregiver shouldn’t be taken lightly since it affects every single aspect of a person’s life.
If you are one of these people who has an inkling that you aren’t cut out to be a hands-on caregiver, you are to be commended. Few people have the ability to take an honest look at themselves and refuse to compromise who they are no matter how much they may want to.
EACH CAREGIVING SITUATION IS UNIQUE It is worth mentioning that some people are too hard on themselves. The term “caregiver” means many different things to different people. In fact, some people don’t even identify as caregivers even though they alone manage and provide all aspects of a loved one’s care. Some people can handle a few weeks of providing hands-on care but cannot continue at that pace for months or years. That is okay. This role involves unique combinations of advocacy, supervision, organization and personal care. It consists of arranging transportation to doctor’s appointments, filling prescriptions, paying bills and ensuring a loved one is eating right. It means deciding when it’s time to discuss moving into an assisted living community or a nursing home, if necessary.
Many people who say they aren’t “cut out to be a caregiver” are providing some or all of this assistance already. However, since nurturing, hands-on care isn’t their strength, they turn that type of care over to those who are better suited and qualified to handle it: other willing and able family members, professional in-home caregivers, or staff at a senior living facility. 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, total hands-on involvement isn’t required to be considered a good, caring person. Respecting different approaches to caregiving is something we all need to strive for. SAYING NO TO CAREGIVING If you are facing this difficult decision, do what you can. Gain a full understanding of 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 entail supporting a sibling who steps up to be the primary caregiver, financially or otherwise, or it may mean hiring outside help. Then drop the guilt for not perfectly fitting society’s expectations. No one can do everything all the time. Make the best use of your strengths and help others use theirs. Your actions will reflect well on the people who raised you.
Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders
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.