There is a little ‘caretaker’ in everybody. When we see someone in trouble we have the natural instinct to help. It is when this instinct grows unmanageable that caretaking can become a pathology that doesn’t help the needy and serves to hurt the caretaker. Caretaking is good when the caretaker knows when to stop caretaking and allow the needy to struggle on their own to develop the skills and strength to help themselves. Caretaking is bad when you carry the baby until the baby never learns to walk on its own. Caretaking is bad when it serves to be the only way the caretaker can establish a sense of worth. Then it is the needy working the needy to no good end for either. Very often the caretaker will give away all they have to give and end up crippled in their own life. Sometimes they caretake to the point they are enabling the needy to continue living a dysfunctional lifestyle. Sometimes the enabler compulsively sacrifices so much that they end up angry at the needy but unable to stop enabling them. They begin to see the needy as a burden they can’t put down.
I do not have children, but I work in a field where I have to care for people, and I am the care-taker for my mother and my grandfather before her. I hear you loud and clear, but in my case, I don’t resent the needy, I resent the other people who COULD be helping but chose not to, leaving all of the heavy-lifting on me.
Thank you so much for finding my site and having the good manners and concern to respond. I am sitting in the back room of a home that my wife and I rented to take care of my daughter who has been going through cancer treatment for a year. We moved and rented this place to care for our child. This was on the heal of my wife and I moving into the mountains to take care of my father in law through some rough years of dementia then death. We literally have no life that we call our own, without caring those we call our own.
I am so sorry about your daughter.
Sometimes, you have to realize that life changes all the time. The life you call your own, which consists of caring for those you call your own, is your new life.
I understand it’s exhausting. I understand it’s frustrating. I understand at some points you truly feel like you’ve lost your life. And I also understand that it doesn’t end…there’s always someone that need/requires something. It can easily feel like you’re in a prison of your own making that leaves you feeling like you only know vampires who suck even the smallest amount of energy from you. And I understand that sometimes it feels like climbing mt Everest just to get out of bed because you can’t remember the last time you did anything normal or for yourself.
But also know this: the struggle is not in vain. You are the one stepping forward because you are stronger than you think. You can do this. And in the end, it will all be OK. For all the stress, anxiety, and exhaustion that you feel has an expiration date — you just don’t know it, feel it, or even realize it. Your father-in-law ultimately passed, making that no longer a situation sucking the energy out of you. Your daughter, who right now needs you, will go into remission. It all ends. Yes, a new vampire may pop up, but that’s part of life. It could be a boss, a job you hate, or a life of hurt and misery due to any number of things from depression to other mental illness. Life is not easy. If it were, there would be a lot less angry and frustrated people who try to end it.
And although you probably want to howl to the sky, just remember, that when that expiration date hits, you personally will have no shame for what you did, no guilt over it, and most importantly, no regrets for having spent the time and energy you did. That is a burden the others must carry. You may, on occasion, want to make your knuckles into a sandwich and feed it to people, but in the end, you know you are doing the right thing and you know you’re doing what’s best for the situation.
However, you are right as well. Caregivers have a tendency to give themselves all away and not know when to step back. Unfortunately, that’s a huge issue. But there are ways to reduce the resentment and exhaustion it brings. Every day, you have to do something for you. It can’t be huge because who can afford that? And also because there are responsibilities that you have to take care of. But you can carve out time for just you. Let’s say your wife LOVES a long bath, and you LOVE a nice long shower. As a caregiver, you don’t feel like you have time for anything more than a quick 4 minute shower daily. Every night, you make sure your wife has the time to go and get that bath, even prep it for her so she feels cared for and has time to unwind and you take over all responsibilities. And every night, she goes into the bathroom and makes sure you have the fluffiest clean towels, a few candles in a scent that relaxes you and lights them so you can have a relaxing shower w/o lights, and you’re being taken care of too. Then, after everyone is taken care of, you and her curl up on the couch with your favorite warm beverages (tea, hot chocolate, whatever), and just you and her talk. Talk about how much it’s taking out of you. Talk about how drained she is. Just talk. You may find that something that truly exhausts you is something she thrives with, and vice versa. Or you may just find that having an outlet for these feelings makes you both feel a little lighter and a lot more in love. And thank each other for the support you’ve given each other, not just to the one clearly in need.
Then once a week, you do the big thing. It may be as simple as taking a 20 minute bubble bath together, or even going dancing. Something you both miss from before you became the two best caregivers. And you create a plan of action over your hot drinks on how to make it real. You need to get a nurse for one night a week, do it. You can get someone in your family to help for one night, do it. Just you and her — like when you were dating. And once a week, a DIFFERENT day, if your daughter is healthy enough for a day out, you all go somewhere together, like the mall or a park. Somewhere where you don’t feel like a caregiver, and somewhere where she doesn’t feel like a patient or someone to be cared for. It’s an amazing difference, and honestly, it took me WAY too long to figure it out. So now, in my caretaker way, I am making sure you have the method to help yourself be better.