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What I miss about being a caregiver

There are aspects about being a caregiver that are truly beneficial to us. We learn so much about ourselves, the one we care for, and about life (and practical things like how to change a sterile wound dressing).

Even though my caregiver days are behind me (at the moment), there are times that I miss the person I was when I was providing daily care and advocacy to my first husband.

Here are just five of the characteristics, or qualities, that I gained from being a caregiver.

1. Purpose

If there is one thing that care-giving gives you it is a raison de tere — a reason to live. Someone needs you for their wellbeing. They rely on you to maintain some freedoms, to be healthy, and to find some daily happiness. If you are a parent (I have not had that privilege) then you live with this purpose every day, but, I assume, that it’s purposefulness can wax and wane over time.

Your role as a parent might not feel like a life-and-death job when cleaning up muddy feet or telling your kids to brush their teeth for the millionth time.

However, being a caregiver to someone who could, conceivably, have a massive stroke and die any day, gives your life immediate purpose.

2. Focus

Although care-giving is stress-filled, anxiety-producing and overwhelming a lot of the time, the critical nature of the needs require your attention. Either the person needs your skills, capabilities and love (aka attention) or the latest emergency dictates your focus.

Plus, when you are caring for a loved one who has a life threatening illness, in all honesty, the world gives you a bit more slack to divert your attention from what the world wants you to do. It’s ok for someone else’s needs to take center stage. That’s probably not everyone’s experience, but it’s certain a pattern that I experienced, which sure came in handy when dealing with the stress.

3. Pride

Care-giving is a skill. It entails a set of abilities, practical wisdom, empathy, knowledge and competence. And, you can study it and become good at it just like any professional skill. When you see and feel the value that you bring as a caregiver and, sometimes receive gratitude or recognition and satisfaction from doing an important job well, it raises your self-esteem.

Care-giving can become a new point of pride as a noble and loving way that you dedicate yourself to another.

4. Perspective

It’s a lot easier to have perspective on the importance of cleaning your house or buying the latest handbag when you are living side-by-side to someone who is dealing with a chronic or life limiting illness. When you compare the trivialities of life to the care-giving you’re doing, lots of things that you thought were important, just aren’t. In fact, they pale in comparison.

A care-giving perspective can help you become better at making choices because you can develop a finely tuned judgement by being aware of the little blessings in life that make it rich. For instance, seeing your loved one eat most of a meal can be time for celebration. Helping the person you care for get outside for a short walk can be joyous. Having a heart-to-heart conversation on the hour-long drive home from a doctor’s appointment can be enriching.

5. Value

What you do as a caregiver is valuable. In fact, it’s invaluable. You really can’t put a cost to the care and love and time that a caregiver invests into the life, health and happiness of a loved one. In actuality, there is a tangible value to the time one spends in care-giving. As lay caregivers, if you didn’t provide the care, there would be a cost if it is done by a paid professional.

Beyond the financial aspects, the act of care-giving is “holy” work. And, you don’t have to be spiritual or religious for the work to be holy. Being there, in the moment, and giving direct care to another person is a special, noble calling. You are partaking in another person’s life at a time when they need a “guardian angel”. They need a special person to walk beside them and lend a hand, or an empathetic ear, in their struggle.

These five characteristics makes care-giving an opportunity for personal growth; to see the world and life in a new way that many outside of healthcare don’t typically get to witness.

Being a caregiver also offers the giver a chance to be a better person and build skills that can serve them later in life — in the more typical, everyday roles of life at home and at work.

When reflecting on how my character changed, the skills that I learned and the ways that I grew through the honor of care-giving, I realize that some of those qualities have become dulled. Getting back into “normal” life has dulled some of the skills and characteristics that I gained while being a caregiver.

If you, currently, provide care-giving to someone — a friend, neighbor, or family member — I hope that you can take a moment to reflect on how you have grown and improved because of your caregiver experience. My desire would be that this realization soothes some of the burdens that you face as a caregiver, and that you benefit, as well, from the experience before you.

If you are a caregiver, how do you believe you have grown from that role? What practical skills have you gained and what perspectives and character-building growth have you experienced? Join our community and share your thoughts below.

About @susanharkema

Susan is the creator of MyHealthVoice.com, built upon her 20+ years in healthcare and her experiences as a caregiver and patient. She is a writer, speaker and advocate for people living with chronic or life limiting illness as well as their family and professional caregivers. Learn more - www.myhealthvoice/susanharkema/.

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  1. Pamala Mielnicki

    Thank you for such a great post – it has brought tears of pride to my eyes. What a wonderful perspective on the life of a caregiver. Often, in the exhaustion and stress, it is too easy to lose sight of the holiness of our work.

    In addition to being a mom, I am blessed with being a caregiver for my dad. One of most poignant lessons I have learned through caring for and working with my dad is the level of respect being a caregiver to a parent (another adult) requires. It has taught me to be a better person and a better mom as well.

    While I have an authoritative position in my children’s lives and I held the same type of role as my father’s “child”, the relationship as caregiver and person who needs care, is much different. I had to learn to step back and learn to ask him if he WANTS help and not just decide he NEEDS it, like I could with a child. He needs to know that I am there to help him do as much for himself as possible and not to come in and take over because what he cannot do for himself now. And it was very important to learn that I had to do so while at the same time exercising self-respect and confidence, and not resigning myself to a submissive role. My dad needs to know I am capable and competent, so he can feel safe and know that he can rely on me.

    We needed to become secure as equals and treat each other with mutual respect and trust. I won’t say this has been easy. We have to work everyday to evolve and balance our relationship as father/daughter and caregiver/person in need of care – but we have found it to be essential and I can tell you it makes a huge difference as to the quality of our experiences with each other. It is worth every bit of discussion and effort.

    • Thank you, Pamala, for so beautifully bringing to light the nature of the adult child caregiver role. Giving care AND respect to an adult we care for is a true recipe for success. However, you share an important truth — being a caregiver to a parent makes it especially challenging when roles reverse. When you state, “We needed to become secure as equals and treat each other with mutual respect and trust” it resonates for many. My father is 82 and free of any medical illness, which is wonderful. Yet, we still experience those times when being seen as an equal can be tough. Thank you for sharing. If you, or other readers, have tips for building that mutual respect as the caregiver of a parent, please post.

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