Yes. It’s time. Time to talk about being a codependent caregiver or, as it is often referred to among mental health professionals, caretaking. Though sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably, caregiving and caretaking are two very different things. Caregiving is providing care for a loved one by doing for them the things they cannot do for themselves. Caretaking, on the other hand, is when you take over activities, decisions, and handling issues that someone can and should be doing. In other words, you are taking the opportunity for someone to care for themselves away from them. As someone who has been a caregiver most of my life, I can see how I often slip into the role of the codependent caregiver. What seems to me at the time to be the thing I must do is often the very thing that I need to not do.
One of the things that makes this most difficult is that what is needed at one stage of my mom’s illness may not always be needed, but I am a person of routine, so once I start doing something, I just keep doing it. Furthermore, it is also hard for me to start doing something I haven’t had to do before. Because of the nature of my mom’s illnesses, what she needs from day to day, week to week, also varies. Another factor at play here is that I am caring for my parent, my mom, the one who cared for me. I feel guilty NOT doing the things, not spending the time, not doing more, not doing “enough.” Spoiler, it is never enough. There is always something I should have done, could have done differently. (Note: this is not always something that comes from my mother, but just the voice in my head.) Perhaps this is complicated by the fact that just when I feel like I am caregiving to the best of my ability for my mom, I feel the pull of my children, my family…who is caring for them when I am caring for her?
So here I sit pondering, “Am I a good caregiver, for my mom? for my kids? Am I overcompensating for my insufficiencies as a caregiver by caretaking–removing opportunities for my mother to do the things she can and should be doing? What about my kids? Because I am not always giving them what they need, am I doing things they don’t need to make up for it? (Like doing their chores for them? cleaning their rooms? taking responsibility for their missteps?)
I am not writing all of this just to get texts and comments telling me what a good caregiver/parent I am. I know I am not perfect, and that is ok. But I am writing to come clean, to share a little piece of what being a sandwich generation caregiver is like sometimes. These are the things we must struggle with, and guard against. Caretaking or codependency is not the answer but it is so easy to fall into that pattern. Just doing the thing is easier than dealing with the tension of saying no. I wonder if fear of confrontation goes hand in hand with codependency. Perhaps. I do not know for sure. But one thing I do know if I am a codependent caregiver I will not only take away opportunities for my mother to maintain her independence, but also the opportunity for my children to learn it. It also keeps me from being able to live in the freedom to pursue my own hopes, dreams, and goals. It inhibits my own ability to care for myself. Exploring my own behavior and seeking help to learn strategies, boundaries, and tools for caregiving is the next step for me. I want to live and love and care for others in a way that builds them up while at the same time not tearing me down.
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