Asset Publisher

Taking on Caregiving Responsibilities: Balancing Expectations vs Reality

By Branka Primetica | 02/15/2022

A caregiver helping his older loved one

As your loved one ages, you may find that the demands of caregiving are growing, and it can be too much to handle. Whether you’re helping with small tasks or assisting a loved one with bathing, no caregiving task truly feels all that small, but others can certainly feel too overwhelming. Your expectations may be that you can do it all – caregiving on top of managing your own household, job and other responsibilities. Or, it could be that others’ expectations for care are growing and you feel pressured to live up to it. Whichever the case may be, accepting the situation and learning to work with it may be the first step to making life easier down the road.

What’s expected vs. what’s realistic for caregivers

As expectations rise, caregivers dedicate more time to caregiving tasks. In fact, according to an AARP report, caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week caring for family and friends. Furthermore, almost 1 in 4 caregivers spend over 41 hours per week providing care (Pinquart, M. & Sorensen, S. (2003) Differences between caregivers and non-caregivers in psychological health and physical health: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 18(2), 250-267). As a result, caregivers experience higher levels of stress compared to those individuals who do not provide care. About 16 percent of caregivers are emotionally strained while 26 percent state that taking care of their loved ones is emotionally challenging. They often feel frustrated, exhausted and guilty. Can you relate to these statistics? If so, it’s time to work on adjusting your expectations and accepting a more realistic version of your role. 

So, one may ask: how do you balance your own and others’ expectations? Here are some tips that will help you map out how to rise to your responsibilities in a way that’s realistic for you:

1. Start a list of all the care tasks that you’re involved in

Then make a list of all your own outside responsibilities. As you are working on this list, think about each of the tasks, or responsibilities, and consider the importance of each of these tasks. Is there a balance between caring for your loved one’s needs and your own? Are there too many expectations? Begin to think about what is acceptable on the list or what needs to change. Know that caregiving changes over time just as with anything in life, and adjustments need to be made accordingly.

2. Try not to drown yourself in the situation to the point that you or your loved one are neglecting the relationship you have, whether you’re a family member or friend.

Do not allow yourself to place your relationship with your loved one on the backburner. Know that these relationships will co-exist with any new caregiving role. By reminiscing about the past, it can bring new memories to the forefront and allow you to gain acceptance with greater ease and comfort. You and your loved one will find joy in the situation, whether it lasts a few short moments or for a greater duration of time.  

3. Do not allow other family and friends to take advantage of your time and create expectations that are unrealistic.

Try not to think of it as saying a direct “no” to them. Rather, you are saying “I need to also take care of myself to continue helping others. Let’s think about who else we can bring into the picture, whether it’s other family or friends, or professionals.” This will help you take control of your time and ease your stress.

4. Think about your level of commitment to the actual tasks that you will be engaging in before you dive in

Are your tasks doable? Are they too challenging? Time-consuming? You may find that your acceptance for some aspects of caregiving are much easier than others. For those tasks that are too difficult, think about who or what can help in these situations. Could you enlist support from other family or friends? Perhaps there’s a service provider who can help in some way? Asking questions and building a network of support will help balance your expectations with what you’re able to do versus needing someone else to step in. As you ease the pressure in some areas of your life and caregiving roles, you will better prioritize tasks and manage time more effectively.

5. Remember that you’re doing the best you can

You will have days that you feel like you let yourself or your loved one down. Once again, remember to adjust your expectations. This is not a race. You do not need to prove that you’re a superhero. You are an individual who is caring, compassionate and strives to keep their loved one safe, happy and loved. You are doing your best. Accept you, your life and your reality. Find trusted friends and professional resources that will help you cope, take care of yourself and get you through the hard times as well as realize all the rewarding moments. Give yourself credit for what you’ve done, what you are doing and what you will continue to do. Your loved one appreciates you, even if it can be difficult for them to express their gratitude.

There are professional resources that can help answer questions about caregiving and provide you with education and support. To explore the coaching services offered at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, visit WeCare… Because You Do. In addition, the Family Caregiver Alliance provides caregiver information and support, services and advocacy.

Related Assets

Suggested Reads

WeCare...Because You Do℠

Benjamin Rose's WeCare is a telephone- and email-based care coaching program that assists and supports older adults with chronic conditions and caregivers.

How Do I know If?: Recognizing When a Loved One Needs More Support

“I’m Not There Yet” or “I’m Not There, Yet”: The Comma Makes a Difference