If You Knew Then What You Know Now

By Carol Bradley Bursack, AgingCare.com

They say hindsight is 20/20. If you could go back in time: what would you now as seasoned caregivers say to your novice self about how to be a caregiver?

As a seasoned caregiver of multiple elders, I can choose to torture myself with my perceived failures at being a perfect caregiver, or I can choose to forgive myself for being imperfect, and recognize that I did the best I could at the time. You have the same choice.

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Much like an adult who realizes that he or she has a “wounded child” living inside – a child who suffers from unearned self-blame or low self-esteem because of life events – many adult caregivers carry the guilt from their “infant” caregiving years to their grave. They spend precious time thinking about how they should have understood someone’s needs better, could have been more patient, would have done any number of things better, if only they knew then what they know now.

The very people who take on caregiving roles are often the most sensitive to other’s needs. Many also tend to be overly sensitive in other ways. Let’s face it. Whatever we do as caregivers seems to be wrong in the eyes of some lookers-on, generally people without all of the facts, and often people who couldn’t do what we do no matter what. Still, we are sensitive to their judgment.

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If You Knew Then What You Know Now: Hindsight for Caregivers, originally appeared on AgingCare.com

We can decide not to be bothered by criticism from the outside. The problem is, we often aren’t aware that we are judging ourselves even more harshly than outsiders may judge us. This is particularly true in retrospect. We look back and beat ourselves up for slips, real or imagined, because we were novices and didn’t know what we know now.

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What tips would you give yourself if you were starting fresh? You’d do your research, of that I’m sure. Government websites such as the Administration on Aging, the National Institutes of Health, plus disease specific websites and support sites such as AgingCare.com, all offer a wealth of information. Also, you’d use your local resources for in person support. You’d call your community Alzheimer’s organization, your Area Agency on Aging and watch for educational workshops. You’d take advantage of help that is available.

What Comfort Would You Give Your Novice Self?

You went into caregiving out of love and didn’t have the education to cope with specific issues, so you made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Move on.

Believe that if your care receiver could be the person he or she was before getting ill, you would be told, “job well done.”

Remember precious moments rather than perceived mistakes. Remember the intimate times – times that remind you that you were fulfilling an important calling. Remember that you made a difference. Write yourself reminders of those rewarding times and read the notes when you start criticizing your earliest caregiving blunders – or even later ones.

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If You Knew Then What You Know Now: Hindsight for Caregivers, originally appeared on AgingCare.com

Understand that imperfection is human, and your best was – and still is – good enough.

Please forgive the suffering caregiver inside of you as you would a friend. Again, I say you did your best given what you knew. Give that novice caregiver a spiritual hug, and a pass for being imperfect. If you do, you’ll leave room for your brain to focus on loving moments with the people you took care of.

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Move on from self-imposed blame and admire yourself for stepping into the difficult role of being a caregiver and seeing it through to the best of your ability. What’s important in not what you did wrong along the way, but in the end, what you got right.

If you could go back in time: what would you now as seasoned caregivers say to your novice self about how to be a caregiver?

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If You Knew Then What You Know Now: Hindsight for Caregivers, originally appeared on AgingCare.com



K s Goh
KS G6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M6 years ago

Some things may not change, what's meant to be will be. Someone wrote about getting the younger ones involved in caring for someone , this is a terrific idea. It is an eye opener, hopefully will reach them deep within and know the meaning of love, compassion, caring and sharing especially precious time.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado6 years ago

Things would have been different!

Deborah B.
Deb B6 years ago

When my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor & needed care, 5 sisters, 1 brother & myself held a meeting with the dr. - conversation centered around sending her to a nursing home. She had just moved in to a Retirement Facility and was the happiest she had ever been the entire time I knew her. (She was not a happy person - she led a very difficult life). Even though she made it clear that she had no use for me, I did not hesitate - she was my mother and had made sacrifices for me (she was quite the martyer but that wasn't the point). I was off for the summer because I was a teacher so I offered to care for her 5 days a week 24/7 if the rest of the family would spell me on the weekends. I did that for three months. It was not easy - I had to sleep on a loveseat and I am a tall woman, she yelled at me and fought me at every turn. That did not detere me - I knew I was doing the right thing. When I had to return to school in the fall, she had digressed and it was harder and harder for the family to care for her. When she finally got to the point that we could no longer lift her to help her to the toilet - my eldest sister took her to a nursing home - then she called the rest of the family. It was time. I immediately left work and met them there. My mother was in tears, SCREAMING, begging us not to leave her there. I was the only one who sobbed as I turned my back on her and walked down the hall. Exhausted, I visited her every day after work. NO regrets he

Susan B.
Susan Barnett6 years ago

Thanks, Donna. I appreciate your comment. I know if my father were here, he'd tell me, "What are you talking about? You did a great job taking care of me and your mother." I know he appreciated all I did -- he told me so many times. He used to call me his "darling girl." And he knew I loved him -- I tucked him into bed and kissed him goodnight almost every night. I was lucky to have a close relationship with both of my parents and I miss them so much now. Maybe that's why I look back on the things I regret and wish I could do them differently.

For some reason, we're always harder on ourselves than we would be on someone else. I just try to remember all the good times I had with my father when I was living with him, and not dwell on the things I regret. And I remind myself that this is a lesson learned and maybe I'll be able to help some other caregiver someday.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton6 years ago

Salient points, thanks for posting.

Susan B, I'm sure your Dad would understand and appreciate all you did for him. None of us are perfect and you were doing a difficult job; please don't be so hard on yourself. Be proud that you did so much for both your parents.

Rita White
Rita White6 years ago


Kari Knabe
Kari Knabe6 years ago

Great information - thank you!

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

It's much harder than you might think, so this article is helpful for sure!

Victoria M.
Past Member 6 years ago