Managing Caregiver Expectations: Family & Friends

Real-World Advice to Help Ease the Burden of Caregiving

Lori Ramos Cavallo


During my time as a caregiver, I found my journal was a safe place to identify my feelings and better understand my anger and resentment towards my mother’s slow recovery.

In this article I will discuss how expectations about family and friends can create negative feelings and cause us to think we have to do it all alone. I had expectations about my family and friends being part of the recovery process, yet I had never let them know that. In some cases I wanted them to participate in activities that they couldn’t manage. As these expectations went unmet, I began to feel isolated and resentful.

Building a care team is an important step for a caregiver, because recovery can take years, and it is impossible to do it alone and stay healthy. For this reason it is important to understand and be clear about your needs and expectations of others. I found the following “dialoging” exercise helpful in gaining clarity about what I wanted and needed:

This exercise takes 20 to 30 minutes. I realize this is a lot of time for a caregiver, so you may want to write after your loved one has gone to bed or before they get up. Write as if you are having a conversation. The beginning will feel forced, but hang in there; once you hit the 7 or 8 minute mark, you will feel a shift and the conversation will take off (writing becomes bigger, sloppy or fast and furious). Do not correct spelling or edit the words that come, just write freely.

A good place to begin is with someone who you feel is not living up to their role as a “good” daughter, neighbor, or friend; or you can write about your “care team” to help identify who they are and what you need them to do. Here is a sample dialog:

Me: Where have you been lately?

Lisa: We have been really busy with the kids.

Me: Your dad has been asking about you.

Lisa: I get here as often as I can.

ME: Well, I could have used a hand last week when he got that cold.

Lisa: I am sorry, I did not know. What did you need me to do?

You get the idea. Write for a minimum of 20 minutes, set a timer and put down your pen when it goes off. Once you have stopped, read what you wrote and then write for 5 more minutes beginning with “I am surprised by . . .” or “I didn’t realize that . . .” This is a very telling part of the writing process. We will use this “A-HA” moment in the next exercise.

What did you learn about your feelings? Had you set expectations about family and friends but not included them in the process or told them what you needed?

Look back at your five-minute writing and find the “A-HA.” Take that information and use it to list the people you would like to include in your care team and the roles you need them to play. If you feel comfortable speaking with them do so right away. If not, do another 20-minute dialog asking for help from each of them. This will make the actual conversation easier when it comes time to have it.

The goal of this exercise is to build a strong, well-functioning and supportive care team. The next article will discuss managing expectations around your medical team.

See also: 

Managing Caregiver Expectations: Recovery

Managing Caregiver Expectations: The Medical Team

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