Six Traits of a Caregiver

CaregivingBeing a caregiver is not for everyone. The responsibilities such as bathing, dressing, feeding and overseeing the safety, physical and emotional needs of another person can be exhausting. Sounds a bit like parenting doesn’t it? Being a parent is one type of caregiving, but there are other types such as a professional who makes a living at it, or a family member, or a friend who are dedicated to help another. No matter what type of caregiver a person may be, there are common and important traits needed to perform caregiving duties successfully.

I was raised to be a caregiver. My parents gave care to their own parents and friends besides caring for their children. I learned from their example. However, I didn’t understand how hard it can be. I want to be clear that I don’t think less of anyone who hires a professional caregiver or caregiving facility as long as they don’t abandon their loved one. I know in some situations hiring a professional is the best and may be the only solution. I acknowledge that some are not physically, mentally, or emotionally able to care for another. By knowing the traits of a caregiver you can recognize if it’s for you and if it’s not, this information will help you find a great caregiver for your loved one.

  1. Empathy. Helps identify vulnerable, scared, confused and uncomfortable feelings. By understanding, you can calm those fears and create a sense of trust. A personal understanding and connection is vital to giving care.
  2. Compassion. Provides the energy and drive needed to sustain you through difficult tasks or while working with a difficult individual.  It also gives you a voice of encouragement and the ability to calm and reassure.
  3. Patience. People being cared for take longer than usual to complete simple tasks or routines. Understanding the limitations of those you care for can help reduce tension in the environment. Good caregivers recognize capabilities and encourage self-sufficiency while still providing necessary levels of care and attention. Having realistic expectations about what an individual is capable of can help you provide the appropriate care. Sometimes their lack of ability can lead to frustration and lashing out. You must be able to separate yourself from potential anger and resentment and not take the situation personally. Being patient means you understand there may be changes in plans or things don’t move as quickly as you’d hope for.  Also, hearing the same old story or question multiple times can become stressful.  Knowing when and how to appropriately “take a moment” to prevent losing patience is essential.
  4. Attentiveness. It is important to be aware of the needs and the changes that are taking place. Being attentive means being a good listener and noticing when there are emotional or physical changes in the personIt’s a bonus to have a creative mind that can and come up with inventive ways to deal with problem situations or overcome resistance.
  5. Composure.  Caregivers often deal with bodily fluids, wound care, bathing and grooming tasks. A good caregiver does not shy away from delicate situations and works to help retain a sense of dignity. Many tasks associated with providing personal care are unpleasant for the caregiver and recipient alike. It can completely change the dynamics of the relationship with a spouse or son/daughter taking on parental tasks. Handling stressful or uncomfortable situations with confidence and grace is an important skill for caregivers. Also, knowing when humor is or is not appropriate helps. A good caregiver doesn’t chide or shame regardless of age or circumstance.
  6. Compromise. In a home or facility care setting, caregivers are bound to encounter other family members with differing ideas on how best to care for a loved one. Conflicts are inevitable. Sometimes you have to compromise to diffuse tense situations. It’s important to thoughtfully focus on what’s needed most to manage disagreements in an effective and positive way.

Being responsible for the care and well-being of another is a highly committed role and is also rewarding.

Unconditional Love

Dad & I SnowmobilingWhen I reached adulthood I realized not all parents loved their children unconditionally. It was a heartbreaking experience as I witnessed a parent withdrawing their love and concern for their child because they didn’t act or accomplish the things the parent thought they should. At that time I vowed to love our children the way my parents loved me—unconditionally.

No matter the test score, or school grade, an argument, a strong belief, or a life changing decision, the love remained the same. That isn’t to say they never showed disappointment, but they did it in a way in which I knew the bond between us was unchanging and unconditional. Believe me, in my teenage years, I tested the limits and no matter what, they still loved me.

Dad was especially good at understanding me and knowing just what to say and how to help. My appreciation for his empathy has grown since the car accident, beginning when Mark’s neurosurgeon walked into the waiting room outside of the I.C.U. where we had been waiting for what seemed like forever.  He said, “We’ve successfully placed a shunt in Mark’s head to relieve the pressure on the brain. The next 24 hours are very critical. His injuries are catastrophic and we don’t know the amount of damage done to the brain. We’re not sure he’ll make it through the night. He’s in a coma and we don’t know if he’ll ever come out of it, but you can go in and see him now.” He left the room without one encouraging word or any glimpse of hope for the future.

Unbelieving at what I’d just heard, I looked at my parents and said, “This can’t be happening. It feels like a nightmare!” I wanted to see Mark, but I was afraid. I imaged how terrible he’d look with a shaved head, shunt, drain, and other equipment hooked up to him keep to him alive. Dad understood my hesitation and said, “Why don’t I go see Mark first.” A few minutes later he came back to the waiting room and gave me the first optimistic words I’d heard in hours. “Mark’s coloring is good and he looks better than I expected.” Dad’s encouraging words were just what I needed to hear to give me the courage to see Mark. I appreciate Dad’s example of looking for the positive, no matter what the circumstances.

Later that night, Dad gave Mark a Priesthood Blessing. More than twenty-three years later, I still remember some of the words he said, but more importantly I remember the love, concern and compassion I felt from his blessing. That was the first of many blessings he has given Mark since the car accident. Each one was given with the same sincere feelings. I’m so grateful Dad is a righteous and religious man.

The day after the accident, the doctor told us Mark needed some high-top boots to prevent foot drop. Dad ran to the nearest shoe store and bought Mark a pair. When he got back to the hospital he carefully put them on Mark, who was lying in bed in a coma. I noticed the boots came from a Payless Shoe Store and commented how much Mark disliked Payless Shoes. Dad tapped Mark’s foot as a gesture to wake him and said, “Good! Mark, you’ll have to wake up and take them back yourself. I’ve still got the receipt, but you’ll have to hurry to meet the return policy.” Dad has a great sense of humor and uses it often to lighten the mood.

A couple of weeks after the accident, Dad was driving me home from the hospital and I asked him if we could stop by the house Mark and I were wanting to buy. It was under construction and I was curious about the progress and if the home was still for sale. Dad hadn’t seen it yet and I was anxious to show it to him, so he agreed. He thoughtfully listened and was interested as I told him of our plans for each room as we walked through the home. Not once did he stop my rambling to remind me of our present situation and how those dreams would not be a reality. His understanding and allowing me to share my dream with him helped me come to my own realization, in my own time, which helped me make closure when I was ready.

Dad is compassionate and thoughtful. Several months after the accident my parents thought I needed a break from the rehab center. Dad wanted to take me to dinner and a dance. I don’t think Dad realized this was at the same location Mark and I had taken ballroom dance lessons. We ate our dinner and then Dad took me out on the dance floor with his famous Fox Trot moves. I really did love dancing with him and in my youth we even won 1st place in a Polka dance at a church Daddy-Daughter Contest. But at the moment, I was missing Mark and started to cry. Dad was surprised by my emotion and asked me what was wrong. I told him it didn’t feel right for me to be there and I was missing Mark. We immediately left the dance floor and our dinner date ended without dessert. I’m sure he was disappointed the evening hadn’t turned out the way he’d planed, but he didn’t try to change my mind. He took me right back to the rehab center to be with Mark.

Scan0093Dad’s construction knowledge made it possible for him to direct my brothers in building an addition that would allow Mark to have care at home. He is a hard worker and never dodges a challenge. He has taught his children to do likewise and after a full day’s work, my dad and brothers spent many evening hours building our addition. Without Dad, it would have been nearly impossible for me to bring Mark home.

Whenever Mark hears me say “my dad” he corrects me by saying, “You mean our dad.” I know Mark’s right—their bond couldn’t be stronger if they were blood related. In fact I tease Mark that he is the favorite child because “my” dad didn’t have to raise him. There isn’t anything that is more endearing to me than to have two of my favorite men love and respect one another.

Dad, Mark & IDad is our hero and a perfect example
of giving unconditional love.  I’ve been blessed my whole life to be his daughter. He’s the best dad I know and I’m so glad he’s mine.

Happy 86th Birthday, Dad. I want to grow up to be just like you with the ability to love others as they are while helping them to be better. I love you!

Some fun old pictures of Dad working and playing.


Dad playing horse

Dad shoveling snow


Dad building shed