August 2nd, 2011 at 4:56 pm
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The difference between caretaking and caregiving

by Judy Kirkwood

I have used the terms “caretaking” and “caregiving” interchangeably in the past, even though I knew they were not exactly the same. “Caretaking” is when you are taking care of someone else’s problems, often doing for them what they could for themselves, but you won’t let them because they might do it wrong. “Caregiving” is offering love and kindness to one who really needs a helping hand. That’s the way I understand it, anyway.

My sister and I learned codependent behaviors living with family members (not my mom or dad) who struggled with addictions. We were experts in trying to keep things on an even keel, not rock the boat or prevent a wreck before it happened. In doing so, we often employed the strategies of caretaking. Basically, we both will throw ourselves in front of an iceberg to take the impact before the ship inevitably sinks anyway. Then we are angry that no one noticed.

My kind of caretaking was based on trying to control an outcome over which I had no real power. Caregiving is about accepting what is and dealing with it gracefully. My own feeling is that caretaking is a bad choice we make when we don’t know better whereas caregiving is a calling that is in each of us if we dig deep enough.

The behaviors of caretaking versus caregiving

You know you’re caretaking when you experience the following:

  1. Feeling stressed and frustrated all the time
  2. Are always being accused of crossing boundaries
  3. Expecting something specific in return for fixing a problem
  4. Feeling like a martyr for sacrificing your time and energy
  5. Not taking care of yourself because that would be selfish
  6. Worrying but not acting
  7. Not trusting others to take care of themselves
  8. Starting to solve someone’s problem without giving him/her a chance first

You know you’re caregiving when you experience the following:

  1. Feeling tired but satisfied or even inspired
  2. Creating your own boundaries and honoring those of others
  3. Giving freely to someone in need instead of keep a tab
  4. Feeling like your time with someone you care about was well spent
  5. Taking care of yourself because you know you can’t give when you are empty
  6. Taking action instead of brooding
  7. Giving others a chance to do what they can to solve their own problems
  8. Listening and empathizing without jumping in to fix things

To recognize codependent caretaking behavior, read Melody Beattie’s, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself or her newer book The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation.

Posted in Caregiving, Support | 2 Comments »
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2 Comments to “The difference between caretaking and caregiving”

  1. Judy Kirkwood

    Ah, parenting a wild teen. They will get payback some day.

  2. Helen

    Excellent points to ponder. I’ve been both a caretaker of a wild teen and a caregiver to aging parents and my husband who battled cancer. Both “jobs” are exhausting, but only the “giving” is fulfilling. Finding time to take care of yourself is the conundrum.

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