Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Default Caregiver—Do you Really Have To Be?

Many books on family caregiving talk about the challenges of family caregiving from the standpoint of how to manage the daily tasks of the job and how to gather the resources you need. My book does that, too, but one of the things that became clear to me early on was that not everybody's motives for doing family caregiving were the same. It's not always a labor of love; for some people it's a trap they fell into, an obligation, a task they resent and struggle to survive. In the next several weeks I'll be putting up blogs about the situation of caregiving by default and how to change this worst case scenario into one that actually works.

From my book:

One of the saddest and most frustrating situations I come across in my work as a Family Caregiving Consultant is when a client says she didn’t “choose” to be a caregiver, she’s a caregiver by default. The story usually goes something like “My brother says his career keeps him too busy. My sister says she’s too busy with her three kids. I just got divorced and I don’t have kids or a career I care about. Mom insists on living at home and refuses to let a ‘stranger” into the house despite how much help she needs, so the job of taking care of her fell to me.” If I press I might hear that she cares about her mom and would feel guilty to say no in this situation... but the truth is that this caregiver doesn’t believe she had any choice but to say “yes.”

The anger and resentment this caregiver feels is palpable. She can’t talk about her brother and sister without spitting out the words. Later I find out that her relationship with her family is miserable because she keeps trying to guilt-trip them into doing things they don’t choose to be doing. Family dynamics are a disaster and she wants someone (me) to come in with my magic wand and fix it... but I can’t.

The caregiver, however, IS capable of making a change. Nobody can force a person to be a caregiver against their will. Our beliefs shape our experience and we always have the ability to change our experience by examining those beliefs and the choices that stem from them. Let’s examine the ones that might be running the show in the scenario above.

The previous blog is partially excerpted from my book The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Available now from

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