At times, Jackie has been so sick
or sidelined with pain that she has
needed my help with everything, from
making her morning oatmeal to tying
her sneakers. In those times, by necessity, I do what I can. But more often,
she can take care of her own needs and
responsibilities. That’s when I need
to step back. My habit of intervening,
what I call overcaring, can weaken
Jackie’s sense of independence. It can
also sap my own energy, which can
lead to irritability, stress, resentment
and caregiver burnout.
Using the advice of our oncology
social worker, I made a conscious
choice a few months back to pump
the brakes a bit on my caregiving. At
first, I worried it might be too much
for Jackie. I felt guilty burdening her
with mundane chores like grocery
shopping. But over time, creating
more balance not only made me a
better caregiver, but strengthened
Here are some tips that may help if
you find yourself in a similar situation.
Resist the urge to do everything.
Talk to the person you are caring
for to get a clear picture of his or her
needs. Which ones can you meet?
Which ones can he or she take care
of? If you’ve already fallen into the
pattern of doing everything, start to
shift some tasks back to your loved
one, including household chores.
Does Jackie like to do dishes? No. Can
she do dishes? Yes. The line between
what your loved one is able to do and
likes to do can be blurry. Encourage
your loved one to step up as much as
possible without overdoing it.
Make your loved one’s indepen-
dence a priority. Most people want
to be in control of their lives and feel
good about taking care of themselves.
We must strive to keep our loved ones
as independent as possible for as long
as possible, which means trusting
them when they say they can com-
plete a task.
Know your limits. Be realistic
about how much you can give as a
caregiver. It’s likely that you have work
and family commitments. And taking
care of yourself is an absolute must.
Set clear limits on your caregiving role
and try to stick with them, even if it
means enlisting the help of friends or
other family members.
Let your loved one care for you
too. It’s important for caregivers to
accept help, including from the people
we are caring for. Allow your loved
one the opportunity to provide simple
gestures, such as giving a back rub
or sharing words of encouragement,
which can help bring some normalcy
to stressful times, as well as focus you
both on what’s most important—your
commitment to each other.
AIMEE SWARTZ is a writer based in
CAREGIVING WITH CONFIDENCE | AIMEE SWARTZ
PHO TO COUR TES Y OF AIMEE S WAR TZ
THE DANGERS OF
Caring Too Much
Shifting some responsibilities may empower your loved one and
strengthen your relationship.
It feels natural to step in when I can make life easier for my partner, Jackie, who has multiple myeloma. But one thing I’ve learned in the six years Jackie and I have been
together is that taking on too much responsibility can backfire,
ultimately causing us both more harm than good.