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Why imperfect family caregiving is such a treasure

As I was growing up, my mom and dad certainly wanted me to do well.

They gave me incredible support and encouragement, always reminding me they were proud of me.

However, within that context, they emphasized that it wasn’t the outcome that mattered most—but the effort I applied to do my best.

“Sue, it’s not whether you succeed that matters to us,” they’d say. “Just that you give your best effort to whatever you do.”

Okay, maybe that’s not an exact quote, but it’s pretty close.

That sentiment gave me comfort and supported my self-esteem then—and helped to form the foundation of my life in the years after.

I view family caregiving through a similar lens.

I couldn’t begin to count how many people I’ve provided care for throughout my life—and most of that has been as a professional caregiver within various nursing roles.

Within such an approach is the more polished caregiver who is mostly rested, supported by a team of colleagues, and armed with the experience and expertise to get the job done.

Compare that scenario to the family caregiver who is often exhausted, overwhelmed by the need to handle so much on their own, and may have no idea what in the world they should do next.

It may seem that the former would be preferable to the latter, but a family caregiver is a treasure because they have the secret ingredient that no one else can provide: a depth of love and commitment that gives them the motivation to try.

When I refer to family caregivers, I’m not just talking about those who are related by biology or marriage—though the majority are.

But anyone who cares enough to step up to the plate to help a loved one in need.

I’m also not referring strictly to caregivers who care for a loved one at home.

Doing so isn’t always possible and having a loved one reside in a facility setting of some type may be the best option for everyone involved.

The family caregiver in this context also is often exhausted and overwhelmed—since there are ongoing challenges of advocacy and worry related to ensuring that a loved is safe, enjoys optimal quality of life, and receives the excellent and compassionate care they deserve.

In today’s environment of COVID-19, this is even more the case, when families often aren’t permitted to visit in person but must do all that advocating and worrying through a window or over the phone.

Imperfect family caregiving is such a treasure.

So what does my parents’ philosophy about effort and achievement have to do with family caregiving?

I’m pretty sure you’ve guessed it by now.

If you’re a family caregiver in any context, it’s not whether or not you do things “perfectly” that matters—but the fact that you care enough to wade into the challenges despite your “imperfect” efforts and give your best to try.

To me, that just speaks volumes about love. I bet it does to your loved one, too.

And if you’re a former family caregiver like me, beware the hazards of engaging in a retrospective critique.

It’s common (and typically not helpful) to look back and think we should’ve done this or that differently when it comes to a loved one’s care—which is easy to do when you’re not in the midst of it.

Who you are today in your more rested and objective state is not who you were then when you were swamped by challenges and just doing your best.

What matters most is that you loved enough to try.

In my case, I was blessed that my mom always appreciated my efforts, even if they were quite imperfect at times.

That’s because she knew how much I loved her and I knew how much she loved me—which is what mattered most to us both.

Family caregiving is a journey that you and your loved one travel together.

Your love for each other is a treasure to cherish as you accept the imperfections that are just part of the trip.

This post first appeared in the latest edition of The Empowered Traveler™ Newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can do that here: Subscribe to Sue’s newsletter.

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