The Reluctant Caregiver

When relationships are strained, caregiving can be especially challenging.

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Indeed, this reluctant caregiver dilemma is positioned to spread like a cancer as our population is living longer. The nation’s largest demographic–78.2 million baby boomers–increasingly face caring for aging parents, their own mortality and need for healthcare, along with the care of their children, friends, and co-workers. According to a 2005 study by Campbell-Ewald Health, 13 million baby boomers are currently caregivers for their aged parents. This year, the oldest of the generation born between 1946 and 1964 will turn 60 years old.

"The luckiest ones are able to do that with their parents, but that's rare,” said Baker. “Most of the time, you’re going to face some pretty heavy spiritual and emotional baggage through the experience of caregiving.”

Even when we’ve experienced a change of heart in caregiving an elderly relative or loved one where the loving was not so visible, the reluctant caregiver syndrome spills over to the sibling front, where family members are stuck repeating childhood conflicts and having those conflicts turn into a war on how to best care for mom and dad, according to Kevin O’Connor, a professional speaker, consultant, and pastoral counselor educator at Loyola University in Chicago. (See tips below)

What’s more, caregivers of parents, ex-spouses, or relatives who haven't been loving or caring can feel especially alone and isolated, said Lori Ovitz, author of “Facing the Mirror With Cancer,” (Belle Press). Through her non-profit organization,, this former Hollywood and TV makeup artist visits patients – adults, teens and children – at the University of Chicago Hospitals and across the country, using makeup to make a difference in how cancer patients, and their caregivers, look and feel. (See tips below)

Frequently, Ovitz deals with young children whose parents are “overwhelmed by what has happened to their child and just can’t deal with it.”

“They do their best to be the caregiver, but the role is too overwhelming,” said Ovitz. “There was one little baby boy where everyone decided it was just better for him to stay in the hospital and be cared for than to go home. It’s heartbreaking.”

For all caregivers–unexpected, reluctant, or no matter what the situation, caregiving is a role that is learned along the way.

"We learn that caregivers come in many different forms, that there is no right way to care and that if we can take care as well as give it and make peace with the experiences along the way, it can be a transformative journey," said Cole.

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Mary Beth Sammons
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