During the interviews, most caregivers explained why and how they had become a caregiver. Many caregivers also spoke about how they approached their caregiving role, for example, by encouraging the independence of the care recipient or cultivating their own compassion and patience. On this page, we describe what caregivers said about how and why they care.
Why be a caregiver?
The people we interviewed gave several different reasons for why they are caregiving. Despite different motivations, all caregivers tried to care with love and dedication. Several caregivers described a kind of intrinsic feeling, or something inside themselves, that made it natural for them to care.
Other caregivers appreciated the past relationship with their partner and considered caregiving a natural phase in life. Mike, for example, said, "My wife raised our children when I was away when we were young. Now, it was my time to pitch in and start doing what she had done and continued to do for years. So, I just felt that it would be my turn. And it's not as easy as it looks. And I knew it wasn't going to be easy."
Rowdyneko, who had been married for 38 years, is very honest about her motivation. She is doing it because she has to. She said, "I've hated every minute of it. I'm saying that from a personal level. I don't want that misinterpreted to think that I've hated my husband."
Others also said that they could have found a facility for their care recipient, but they felt it was their responsibility to care for their loved one.
Other caregivers felt a strong commitment or obligation to care for their loved ones at home. Alyce, for example, said, "He took very good care of me, provided for me very well. And from day one I told him I would not leave him; I would take care of him if anything ever happened. So I've stayed with him 25 years and it's been difficult."
Joanne promised her father that she would care for her mother when he died. She said, "It's my personality; I'm a very responsible, dependable person. […] I've made a commitment to my dad before he died. He was really worried about his wife, my mom, and I said to him, 'Don't worry. We'll look after her.' That's one thing."
Sheni said, "I'm looking after him because, you know, what other alternative is there?"
For Madhu and Kai, caring for a family member is part of their culture. Kai said "So culturally speaking, you're not told to look after a family member when they're ailing. It's more subtly put upon you. Like, there's nobody going around telling you, 'You should do this. You should do that.' You're more or less called upon to do it."
Approach to caregiving
Several caregivers believed at first that they could do everything alone by responding to all the needs of the care recipients by themselves. Richard said, "I just thought this is my job and I have to do it. I want to look after her. I love her, and whatever comes up, I'm tough; I'll deal with it. And I became superman. […] I was trying to keep things going the way they had always been going. And that becomes increasingly hard when the other person can do increasingly less."
Like Shayna, others also spoke about trying to be responsive while also promoting independence. Joanne, for instance, does not always agree with her mother's decisions: "I don't see her always making the right decisions according to what I think, and according to what a whole lot of other people think too, but they are her decisions. I can't force her to go to the day program. I can't force her to use her walker. I'm not going to turn this into a police state, you know. I try and support kindly, but firmly."
Several caregivers spoke about trying to be the perfect caregiver, but realized that they cannot always do a perfect job. Claire, for example, said, "I think that's the hard part. I would like to be the most exceptional, caring, patient, kind caregiver 100% of the time. And then life happens, and loss of sleep happens. And then I'm not as kind, or as loving, or as patient. And then I feel guilty and frustrated, and start all over again."
Some caregivers described how they advocate for their care recipient to receive the best care. You can read more about this in Navigating the system. In Hospitals and facilities, you can read about what it was like for caregivers to decide whether to care for their care recipient at home or have them live in a facility.