Caregiving Is A Choice

Do you know what kind of caregiver you want to be?

“Seriously, Liz?! I never wanted to be a caregiver!”

I know eldercare isn’t something most of us ever aspired to do. I played with baby dolls as a young girl, imagining I would some day be a mother; I never dreamed of caring for an elderly parent. Who did? Caregiving usually happens to us – we don’t plan it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t choose what kind of caregiver we want to be.

Life is nothing if not a series of choices. Hit snooze or get up? Muffin or yogurt? Walk or drive? Pay attention or day dream? Stay angry or forgive? Whether we are aware of it or not, we make choices every waking hour. And even though it might not feel like it, caregiving is a choice too. We made a choice to care for our parents, spouses, neighbors, relatives.

Oooooh, I can hear the resistance from here! “You think I chose this?! You think I choose to miss all of that time at work? You think I choose to watch my social life go to hell? You think I choose trips to the podiatrist, urologist, rheumatologist instead of the gym? You think I choose to deal with adult toileting issues!?! Yes, I do.

You may not prefer your choice. You may not embrace your choice. You may not like your choice, but yes, you choose to do it. Maybe it feels like a false choice  – if I don’t do it, who will? I’ll give you that: women, as the default caregivers in society, often face false choices. So, I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but still, you stepped into the role.

Why does acknowledging your choice matter? Because when you acknowledge that you have a choice, you gain more control over a situation. And once you own the choice to care, you can make choices about what kind of  caregiver you want to be.

Do you want to be a caregiver who continues to lean in at work? Do you want to be a healthy caregiver who prioritizes her own health as well as the health of the person she cares for? Do you want to be a caregiver with a social life? A happy caregiver? A long distance caregiver? The choice is yours.

And here’s the thing about choices: one leads to another. First you choose to care or not. Then you choose what kind of caregiver you want to be. That leads you to choosing how to care. Hands-on or hiring help? Live in or drop in? With siblings or solo? With love or with resentment? (Or both..because the one choice we don’t have is to be human.) All of these choices may sound overwhelming, but they are actually empowering (and I don’t use that word lightly.) We may not love, or even like, all of our choices. We may not be able to fully implement what we want (like hiring help), but we can be conscious of our decisions, and realistic about our options, and then we can take control. And it always feels better to be in control than to be put upon.

So, what kind of caregiver do you choose to be?

*This post is first in a series about caregiving with intention.

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5 comments on “Caregiving Is A Choice”

  1. Renee Reply

    I struggle with this everyday and I appreciate you writing this. It is thought provoking and offers shift in perspective that is worth trying with hopes that it might help me cope better with this entire situation.

  2. Emily Gaffney Reply

    Walking in the back door of my 92 year old mother’s house, I often find myself saying – “be nice” or “be patient”… And then, I’m not. My daughter-self takes over and I forget that Mom – despite her mental acuity – is OLD…. That she may fabricate a few details in a story (that I’ve heard a million times), because its the way she remembers that particular event *now*. She’s not seeking to aggrandize her reality, but rather, to make sense of her own memories. Your piece reminds me that I have a *choice* not to correct her recollections, but just to listen to them. Thanks Liz!

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