Caregiving: How it changes us



In this article Donna Thompson describes caregiving as a process with no clear beginning and no clear end.  She states that caregivers may not even accept that they have taken on the role, but whenever one cares for another, they are indeed a caregiver. 

  • You may think initially that this will be a temporary state of affair—only until someone else steps up to the plate or when life returns to normal.  But then you find yourself still embroiled weeks or months or years later. 
  • During that time, you have experienced uncertainty and self-doubt while your relationships and associations have changed. You, too, have changed—permanently and fundamentally—and there is no going back to who you were when you began the journey.  Caregiving is now undeniably a part of you—you have found previously unknown pieces of yourself in the process. Your transformation is an accomplishment. 
  • You may have had to come to grips with your disappointment in others to whom you felt the closest.  You may have been hurt by their reactions to you and your situation.  But during this process, you’ve developed your own voice. 

The big trip-up occurs when you discover that the realities do not meet your expectations and you begin to feel disappointment and frustration. When you are carrying so much burden on your shoulders as a caregiver (in addition to your other roles—such as spouse, parent, and/or employee), and if you feel unappreciated, overwhelmed, and out of control, these emotions can turn into anger, resentment, and bitterness. These nasty feelings seem to eat away at you, like cancer, from the inside out.

What to Do about Mama? p. 176

Through the process of “rising to the occasion,” they discovered newfound capabilities and personal growth. Jane learned a lot about her own emotional strengths. She also chose a new career path—working with mature adults and developing senior programming for fitness facilities. June started and facilitated a caregiver support group and has found it cathartic: “We cry and vent and laugh and love each other.” Caregiving taught Aggie to take life one day at a time—and more about patience than any other experience. Ward says a caregiver has to be very strong—“with 24/7 time to give.” Initially, Annabelle resented having to do caregiving. But ultimately, she was glad she had the experience. She knows now what is important, and that it doesn’t pay to get upset over little things. Annabelle also relates that she has enjoyed watching her mother grow from a dependent 1950s-style housewife into an energetic older woman who stands up for herself and calls the shots of her day. For Keith caregiving became a process of discovery—of what one is capable of doing in a crisis. He has compiled a booklet of information to help others who are undertaking the experience. In addition, when families pull together to support one another, other members experience personal growth—specifically, the caregiver’s children. One caregiver learned by the example her mother had set. Aggie said that her caregiving taught her children many valuable lessons. Deborah in contrast, pointed out that she learned her caregiving orientation from her mother, who would take home-cooked meals to the sick—and had cared for her own mother and her father-in-law as well. Other caregivers express the importance their faith played in their caregiving experience and report even greater spiritual growth. In caring for her son, Betty was inspired by his character and his faith—bringing her closer to God. Suzanne, who believes that things happen for a reason, sometimes feels that the only thing that helps her through the day is her trust in God.

What to Do about Mama? pp. 242-243

There are two important questions left for you to determine:

What has died in you?

What has grown?