On Being a Caregiver

By Kevin Brown | Bio

It is my experience that caregiving is fast becoming another role that adults will take on in the communities in which we live. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that seniors made up 13.1% of the general population in 2005.  The Ottawa-based Institute of Marriage and Family, in their recently released report titled ‘Care-Full’, states that between 2005 and 2056, the average Canadian’s life expectancy will rise by seven years. One could assume that the statistics for the United States will be similar in nature.   

It seems to me, therefore, that even if you have not assumed the role of a caregiver in the past, it is a role that you will likely assume sometime in your future. As with any new role, a definition is usually helpful. Wikipedia defines ‘caregiver’ as “unpaid relatives or friends who support people with disabilities”. Another online source ‘The Free Dictionary’ gave this definition: “An individual, such as a parent, foster parent, or head of a household, who attends to the needs of a child or dependent adult.” And at Your Dictionary.com the definition is “a person who takes care of someone requiring close attention, as a young child or an invalid.”  

These are workable definitions, but I prefer my own. “A caregiver is any individual who willingly gives of themselves to improve the quality of life for another individual.” Michael Carrigan, a good friend and business consultant, defines willingness in this way: “Willingness is NOT about being willing when you are willing.  Willingness is about being willing when you are not willing.” For me, ‘willingness’ for a caregiver is an important distinction because the situations we find ourselves faced with is often not planned—it just happens.

In situations in which an opportunity or need arises for an individual to care for an aging parent, family member or friend, how we choose to respond will define not only the experience of the person being cared for, but also our own experience of giving care.  Whether we are conscious to it or not, we get to choose how we respond.

Some choose to resist or resign themselves to the situation. When we are resisting or being resigned, we are not willingly accepting the responsibility to care for the other person.  We feel obligated or put upon, trapped in our circumstances, and drained of energy. This may sound familiar. Can you recall a time in your youth when you were asked to care for your siblings?  I can recall numerous times when I was asked to care for my brothers and sisters when I definitely had other plans. During those times, all I could think about was what I was missing out on by not being with my friends.  Consequently, I wasn’t much of a caregiver and I certainly wasn’t fun to be around.  More importantly, when I look back, I know that my younger brothers and sister knew that I was not entering into the responsibility of providing care with a willing attitude. The energy that I was emitting was definitely not positive.  Fast forward to today, and I can now see how choosing to be resigned about providing care is not conducive to creating an environment of possibility for me or for those I care for.

Consider what happens if we choose to be a caregiver when the need arises. Choosing allows who we are BEING to reflect a sincere willingness to care for another person.  In choosing, we are fully able to bring the very best of who we are into every caregiving moment. When we show up with compassion, love, power and possibility, imagine how those we are caring for get to show up. They get to show up with anticipation, openness, vulnerability, appreciation and hopefulness that in that precious moment, someone has freely chosen to care for and be with them.

Can you see the power, freedom, and grace that are possible from choosing to be a caregiver in every moment?  

At the Eldering Institute, we define Eldering as sharing the very best of who we are.  Whether we are Eldering with dependant youth, treasured friends or with dependant parents, sharing and giving our best is BEING a Caregiver of the First Order.

To be sure, there will be moments when we do feel the burden of caring for another.  When our own energy, health, and spirit are not up to par.  In these moments, whenever possible, we need to enroll others in caring for us. To care for others, we must first care for ourselves!  This is the subject of my next article.


© 2009 Kevin Brown. All rights reserved.

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