Caregivers: from all of us watching you from the sidelines, please be proud of what you do! It’s not egotistical, pompous, or hyperbolic. You’re a boss-level bad*ss, doing one of the most fundamental jobs a human can do: caring for another.
Since caregivers may shy from thinking about how awesome they actually are, below is a run-down of the everyday wins that caregivers may dismiss in their own lives. Additionally, find ideas for how to express your pride in what you do.
Who are caregivers?
Caregivers are guardians, helpers, comforters, healers, and heroes. We understand the internal reasons why it might feel hard to call yourself a caregiver. But caregivers are the backbone of society–yes, that means you!
One organization that exists to support caregivers is called ARCHANGELS, and its name illustrates why caregivers deserve to take pride. Their Co-Founder and CEO, Alexandra Drane, shared in an interview with Supportiv why all caregivers should proudly own their role:
“One of the reasons why we call ourselves Archangels, is that we don’t want to just destigmatize the act of caregiving. We don’t want to just normalize this beautiful thing called caregiving–we want to freaking celebrate it! We think unpaid caregivers are BAMFs, stretching their wings out over people they care for. We want folks to see that as aspirational.”
Why does it matter if I acknowledge I’m a caregiver?
According to a resource from the National Patient Advocate Foundation, few caregivers realize that their responsibilities extend beyond those of a simple loved one:
“Many people step up to help a loved one who is sick because they believe that is what is expected of them as a family member or friend. However, being a caregiver and assuming that role is so much more than kinship or spending time together; it involves taking on many unplanned or extra actions to help someone who is sick maintain their quality of life and wellbeing.
“As a caregiver, you may help with activities of daily living (dressing, bathing, toileting), prepare meals, organize or administer medications, and accompany and/or drive your loved one to appointments. You may provide this help in person or handle the arrangements from afar. In either case, these are meaningful tasks that may easily add up.
“Recognizing that these tasks are done by a caregiver – and that support is available – may help lift a weight many people don’t realize they carry.”
Why it can feel hard to proudly own your title: “caregiver”
Let’s keep it real: being a caregiver is hard work emotionally, physically, and mentally. However, you might feel guilty about owning the fact that this is more effort than most people put into regular loving relationships.
That guilt has no place in your life! By calling yourself a “caregiver,” you’re not shaming your loved one for needing care. You’re not calling them out for needing “too much” help. The reality of the situation is that they do need help, and you’ve offered your services. You should be able to acknowledge that while you’re happy to help, your efforts carry personal costs.
If you feel burned out, taken for granted, or shamed for calling yourself a caregiver, the work that you do can feel even tougher to celebrate.
You feel burned out
Caregiving isn’t what most of us set our sights on. When we fall into the role and funnel all of our energies into helping others, we burn out. Drained and exhausted, it’s hard to even embrace the title “caregiver” much less feel proud of it.
“Caregiver burnout isn’t just inconvenient or unpleasant-it can lead to the inability to function in everyday life.” – Institute on Aging blog
“I am so angry that I never come first. I am sure I am depressed but I don’t even have the time to breathe let alone see a doctor for me.” – Doris, Age 72, Colorado Springs
“All the things that you would normally do to kind of get support and nurture yourself I wasn’t doing for the last year.” – Susan Foosness, 40, Durham, North Carolina
It’s hard to own what leaves us exhausted, overwhelmed, and depleted. It makes sense that we aren’t inclined to loudly and proudly celebrate what we do, when doing it feels unsustainable to our wellbeing.
Your work is unappreciated or put down
It’s tough to own work that is invalidated and belittled. This job is often a thankless one. People often don’t understand the amount of stamina, exertion, and commitment that goes into caregiving. They can write off our work as something that we are supposed to do, as if that takes away its difficulty. Even the people we care for can be vocally ungrateful for what we do and for our role in their lives.
“A lot of people don’t seem to consider being a Caregiver to be a legitimate career or a worthwhile way to spend one’s life, particularly being a Caregiver for a family member as I am…I have spoken to countless ‘friends’ who have expressed such an opinion: ‘But Antony when are you going to get a real job and have your own life?'” – Antony Pinol
“As a caregiver I felt selfless, unappreciated, alone, overwhelmed, and exhausted.” – Gregg
“You want it to be love and being done out of the goodness of your heart–but it is difficult to dismiss the hateful things that are said to you.” – BJ
Caregiving drags when your worth isn’t acknowledged and prioritized. Owning our title feels awkward when what we do isn’t seen as a real job. And it’s hard to bring up at all when folks just don’t understand what it entails.
You experience guilt
In any role, it’s normal to feel guilty when we are exhausted, want a break from our job, or even want to quit the job altogether. Caregiving requires unparalleled selflessness and being tired of putting other people before ourselves can make us feel bad about ourselves as well. We carry a remarkable load of responsibility for the well-being of others, and setting that down to get coffee with a friend or go on a date can feel so wrong.
“I felt guilt about the times I could have spent with Morris watching television or taking a walk instead of running out to be with friends or to dance.” – Barbra Cohn
“Mom still felt guilty if she didn’t answer every single one of Grandma’s calls. Even if someone else could take care of Grandma for a few hours, mom felt bad because Grandma usually asked for her specifically.” – Elizabeth
And when we make a mistake as caregivers, or the people for whom we are caring get hurt, it’s so easy to put the blame back on ourselves. We can feel as though we should have done better, been more attentive, and given more of ourselves to our work.
“I feared that any misstep on my part would bring disaster.” – Bobbi Carducci
“What if I make a mistake and everything blows up in my face?” – Dave “Caregiver Dave” Nassaney
It’s difficult to be proud of what we do when we feel guilty for needing breaks or making mistakes. Instead of celebrating ourselves and our accomplishments, we tend to focus on all the things we are doing wrong as caregivers and shy away from owning that title.
Daily wins as a caregiver: what you do matters
Even if it’s hard to own our title, the work we do still matters immensely! Whether this is our paid job or we’re providing care free of charge, we are making it possible for other people to live as healthfully as they can. That is something to be proud of.
These perspectives show us that caregiving is a bad*ss role:
“My favorite part about being a caregiver is seeing the child/children thrive and be happy. I love to see that my efforts and care can make a difference, and make a positive impact on a child’s well being.” – Jessica in Savage, MN
“Knowing that I am helping someone that can’t do certain things for themselves. It’s called putting love into action.” – LN
Caregiving for family members and loved ones can have an additional rewarding spin: doing our jobs enables us and our family members to have more time together, stay connected, and create memories. In challenging times we are the anchors that keep our families grounded. What could be more valuable?
“We loved, laughed, and made some great memories through it all. He was able to see his grandkids grow and they were able to know their grandpa.” – TL
“The blessing to me was that I could just be with my family and have the time they had left with them. It was actually a privilege to care for them and it gave me a lot of memories I wouldn’t have had otherwise.” – MH
“The most rewarding thing for me was getting to spend time with my mom-time I could never get back if I had spent it doing something else.” – LH
As caregivers we help other people live their lives as well as possible. We create joy, make people’s days better, and genuinely connect with folks along the way. Caregivers are powerful, vibrant, and vital, and we deserve to celebrate the wins that come along with our job.
Cultivate your caregiver pride
We can be proud of ourselves and what we do while being honest about the downsides of our job. Caregivers deserve to honor and celebrate themselves for the gritty work they do, and for simply being themselves! Here are some tips for cultivating pride in who you are and what you do.
Take breaks and recharge
Everybody needs breaks from work whether they are doctors, teachers, cashiers, or caregivers. When we feel burned out, exhausted, and drained, our bodies and minds are telling us to take time off from work and practice self-care to refuel ourselves. Caregivers deserve to go to their own doctor’s appointments, have therapy sessions, or do whatever helps them feel most centered.
“Drove around for 10 minutes today with the music blasting and the window down. It gave me some energy and put my head in a much better place. When I got home I was able to be much kinder.” – Margaret, age 63, New Orleans
“I have started to spend a higher number of hours all by myself. It doesn’t mean I’m not a social person or I don’t love the people around me. That’s how I reconnect with myself and get grounded, reflect, and recharge.” – Sara Fabian
Giving ourselves space from our work when we are running out of steam allows us to return feeling rejuvenated. Fresh starts give us energy that we need to do our jobs again, and to do them well. It’s easier to be proud of ourselves when we confidently give the best of ourselves to our job. Caregivers who let themselves rest, and prioritize their physical and mental health experience less burnout and cultivate long-term pride.
Be gentle with yourself
We are humans, not machines. Like everybody else in this world, caregivers make mistakes. We aren’t perfect, nobody is, and it isn’t fair to hold ourselves to such a high standard. Give yourself the time to acknowledge what isn’t going well, then try moving towards self-kindness. Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to the people you care for or your best friend. Let yourself know that you are doing your damn best.
“Write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is a wonderful, inexpensive way to release your concerns and worries on paper. It’s available when your therapist and best friend are not, and you can do it anywhere at your leisure.” – Barbra Cohn
“I will be grateful for opportunities to take a break, the flexibility I have created for myself, and what I have accomplished. I figured out that when I convert my guilt into gratitude, I have found it is easier to get unstuck and get on with my life. I am able to move forward with peace and joy. A little self-compassion and forgiveness goes a long way.” – Dave “Caregiver Dave” Nassaney
Keep track of all the incredible things you do
When we break it down, caregiving means doing a bunch of different jobs at once. Caregivers are chefs, cleaners, medical assistants, and emotional supporters all in one. Try writing out everything you do in your day as a caregiver to remind yourself how awesome and capable you really are.
“By writing a list of all the things I’ve done it helps me to become fully aware of the amount of work I’m doing and its worthwhile nature.” – Antony Pinol
A final reminder on why it’s important to own your role of “caregiver”
Alexandra Drane summarizes the value of recognizing and talking about the fact that you are a caregiver: “That is step one to being seen in the role that you’re playing: letting people know you’re in this role, giving them the gift of the opportunity to love on you in it.
“Then, get connected to resources that exist to help. There really are resources everywhere. But the most important resource is to just know that you’re not alone.”
As a caregiver, you are immensely skilled at what you do, and immeasurably valuable. Own what you do, feel proud of yourself, and remember that you are worthy of care. Take a minute to love on yourself, with more caregiver resources here.
This article also featured on MHAnational.org.