Is caregiving an act of love or obligation?

August 20, 2017

Young man and woman in bed

We talk a lot about how fulfilling it can be to support a loved on, but we also discuss how difficult caregiving can be. Is caregiving something we’re doing out of a sense of obligation and duty, out of love for our caree, or a mix of both?

Caregiving is an obligation

Caregiving is an obligation for me. My daughter has a brain injury due to her own drug use. She’s hurtful and emotionally and mentally abusive to me and her kids that I’m also caring for. There are many days that I truly do hate her for the situation she’s put us in. My grandson will be 18 in two weeks and he’s moving out because of her, his mother. I don’t blame him at all. – DA

It was an obligation. Glad it is over now. Caring means you put your own life on hold, or try to lead two lives (and be expected to). It is not sustainable and leads to resentment. – VJ

Obligation in my case. If I don’t step up things don’t get done. It is especially hard for me because I have felt trapped throughout my life. It has never been about me. I resent that. I took care of my ex with cancer, then my daughter was diagnosed with autism and now mom has dementia. I have had to leave everything I worked so hard for because my brother can’t be bothered. – IN

I want to say both but more and more it is just obligation.
My mom makes everything so difficult with her self centered, controlling, hateful nasty attitude. Everything is a a demand to be done right now and to be done her way. My own adult children tell me it is time to tell her she has to go to a nursing home and leave her. – TK

Caregiving is an act of love

LOVE!!!! 18 years… my husband was shot in the head twice, he cannot walk, talk and eats through a g-tube. Definitely LOVE. Before his BI he loved me like nobody in this whole world has. – JJ

It’s an honor and a privilege to take care of my wounded veteran 29 yr old beautiful daughter. She is my hero. – KP

I take care of my husband because I dearly love him. Yes I do get tired; I do miss out on some things I’d like to do. Yet I don’t resent a minute of caring for him. My daughter stays with him one day a week and I go have lunch with a friend, get a pedi or just ramble around and I’m always happy to get home to him. – RH

It is a GIFT to give back to our loved ones. OH, it is not an easy journey but once you understand “they are NOT giving you a difficult time, they are having a difficult time” You begin to find the humor and share their journey with the love and respect your loved one deserves. At times, when I was so tired, frightened and feeling I was doing everything wrong. my Mom would SMILE at me, touch my hand and fill my heart with such Love. We took the journey together and shared so many wonderful adventures, long talks and much laughter and yes, tears too. I will miss her always and thankful for our special times helping each other. Life is a Beautiful Journey. – SM

Love, absolutely!! I am so blessed that I’ve been able to bring our son into our home, after some terrible occurrences at a nursing home, and to be able to assist and encourage him to reach the amazing ability level he’s reached!!! In those very brief and fleeting moments when I feel like ‘quitting’, my husband is always here to give me the little break I need. – VM

After 14 years, there’s as much love as there ever was, but there are days when I miss dreadfully the freedom and light-heartedness of my previous self. Filial piety is no easy thing. – CB

My son is only 11 and most likely will never speak or be independent. Right now it is love. But how will I feel in twenty years? Looking for guidance and advice from folks who have been doing this for a long time. – PC

LOVE!!!! When I start to feel lonely & sad for not being able to have or experience what my friends have, I get selfish & then it kinda feels like sort of an obligation. I’m the youngest & stayed behind to take care of Mom & Dad. I gave up grad school at USC, my career, getting married & having children. – RB

Caregiving is both an act of love and an obligation

Obviously both. And when I’m so tired a burden. But love wins out. Such a rollercoaster of emotion for me. – DR

It started out as love. My dad had Alzheimer’s late stage and my mom was starting to develop it. So I moved them into my house After 10 very long years my Dad passed and now it’s just my mom. I am exhausted beyond belief with no end in sight. I love my mom but it has quickly become an obligation. – NN

In the beginning, it was all love. After 12 years of anxiety and stress, it usually feels more like an obligation. – KF

An obligation brought on by love….my husband developed a brain disease that’s deteriorating his brain. I always had promised him I would take care of him as long as I could. I struggle everyday out of love and then those days I don’t know if I can continue. He has had strokes, has seizures, has developed kidney disease, vascular disease, lung disease and now our current dilemma of skin deteriorating on his bottom. Most of the time I want to give up but then I look at him and ask myself if the roles were reversed would he? I can admit, even with the help of a home aid and nursing visits, I am tired. – TM

I love caring for people but I’m also getting burnt out. I think if I was caring for a loved one it would be different. I am at a place where I don’t want to do this anymore. – AJ

Both, as much as I love him, it does feel a obligation sometimes especially when I can’t get any me time or am so tired i could scream. – KA

Mostly love, but sometimes obligation. I love my son (18 yrs, traumatic brain injury at birth caused by doctors). I have my days where it just feels like I’m on a treadmill, doing the same thing day in, day out. Being a caregiver is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but the rewards far out weigh the bad days. – GG

Both…But you are motivated by love even though you get tired of being judged so harshly by outsiders and family who truly don’t have a clue. They make it feel more like a burden and obligation. Many are just jealous and expect too much out of you for them which takes away from the one you are caring for and your own self care. – JD

Depends on the day and on the mood of the person you are caring for. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done. A child is one thing but an adult who is depressed and uses anger to mask is the hardest ever. – MR

Depends on time of day, what day of the week, how tired I am, how tired hubby is, if I’ve had respite…ideally I feel the love, in reality, it’s kind of brutal, watching the love of your life fade away, doing things for him he never would’ve wanted you doing. – PS

Mostly love, occasionally obligation but I asked for this. All those prayers asking for his life to be spared, asking for healing. I never asked that God take him home n release me from this journey. The next journey scares me more, the one where I learn to live without him. – VS

Both!!!! The hardest part of being a caregiver for me is watching my husbands health deteriorate. It’s also very hard not to get resentful for being put in the position of being a caregiver. Some days I feel like running away from the responsibility of it all. But somehow I hang in there and pray for strength to get through the next day., praying that it’s not as stressful as the day before. – RH

When I was caring for my Grandma, I loved her 100% of the time but she always made it feel like an obligation. Especially when she was verbally and mentally abusive. – PB

Both, for sure. As someone else said, it largely depends on the moment. When my sister is happy and being good, it’s pure love. Grumpy days feel like pure obligation. Though even then, love plays a role in order to dig up the patience needed to handle her. – AB

I’m starting to feel resentful because it taken away so much time from my son who is leaving for college in a few weeks and my husband who I have to leave at home as well . I love my Dad but he doesn’t appreciate the struggle it is …. but I’ll keep on doing it because he’s my dad and I promised my mother . – KB

Wow such a thought provoking question… my daughter is severely disabled and has major behaviors. Lots of people ask me when I will put her in a home and honestly I can’t even imagine her not in my life or my home… I know at times I grieve my life because I have absolutely no help and feel so isolated at times, but like I said I love her so much I can’t imagine her not being here. But I also feel as a mother it is my obligation… I definitely think sometimes it depends on the day and how exhausted I am feeling in the moment. I truly wish there was more support for parents that have none… my only option is out of home placement due to her behaviors. – JT

Both. I love my son but his behavior related to his TBI makes it a challenge some days. I never thought this was he would be spending his senior year in high school. – JN

Both….my mom passed away three years ago…I cared for her for over twenty years…she was sick n suffered with diabetes..kidney dialysis foot amputation etc….list just goes on and on…my dad passed seven years ago so that left me by myself to care for her..I loved her so much and miss her everyday..but wouldn’t want her back on this earth to suffer more…but also felt obligated to care for her because she cared for me and raised me…fed me changed me took care of me when I was sick..she didn’t abandoned me because she got tired or aggravated…she always was there for me…and there was no way I was there gonna abandon her either…so I felt both love and obligation…and id do it all again….❤ – VT

Both to me as well. As mom, I feel it is my obligation to take care of my son instead of allowing others to help. But at the same time I so love taking care of my son. Not many moms have their 21 year old kid at home and I have been so blessed that I can spend so much time with him!! – DA

Love that turned into obligation. Yes, the love is still there, however resentment has started to creep in. That is when I need to wake myself up, lean on our Father and realize that I know what I was getting into. I don’t blame him for all of this…just pray that things would be better so that I can be near my only son. I encourage everyone to look for the small blessings and never give up hope! – SA

Both. Although in many ways I feel it is my calling. My career was nursing, that was my passion. I was gifted with the opportunity to formally “RETIRE” from working with a full pension effective August 1, 2014. My mom was diagnosed with Double Pneumonia August 7, 2014. I struggled with being nurse and daughter until her passing from progressive decline this April 16, 2017. I am now caregiving my dad who has cognitive impairments. Although many challenges make each day a “new normal”. I find that my love for my family is what helps me to make wiser and healthier decisions. – KB

You want it to be love and being done out of the goodness of your heart — but it is difficult to dismiss the hateful things that are said to you. – BJ

Some responses have been edited for grammar and clarity. You can read the original responses here.

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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  1. When it becomes too much, and you no longer care about the results, it is obligation.

    3 generations – parents, mentally ill/diagnosed psychotic siblings and children (abandoned by their mother) is more than can be done and more people than can be rescued.

    I just want to run away.

  2. Obligation!! No one Wants to do it, but I wouldn’t Let anyone Else do it!!

  3. I was the only one they could depend on to be there for them and I would do it all over again because I loved them unconditionally. My Dad, Mom and My Husband. If it had been reversed they would have been there for me.

  4. Just like parenthood, it is both! Sadly, though, you are watching your beloved decline rather than progress. Godspeed!

  5. If you really love someone, you can’t help but feel obligated to care for them. Yes, it can be burdensome but love lightens the load. (I have to tell myself this everyday..nobody else will) Keep the hope even in a seemingly hopeless situation.

  6. I have found that oh your a care giver there you take care of them with no regards to my health and mental well being

  7. Of course we love them. But it’s an obligation that speaks more to the level of our honor then level of our love.

  8. I am caregiver for my husband who has dementia, I would not have it any other way. We have been married 60 years and had known each other several years before we married, but it gets tiring sometimes, esp. if you are not well yourself

  9. It’s both. Very much both. You can’t help but feel obligated but it’s rooted in love.

  10. For me it’s duty- period. I’m an only child of two only children. My father died in ’99. My 90 yr old mother is a narcissist & dry-drunk. I said no more vodka after her last fall a year ago. She’s still mad @ me. She does not know how to love anyone but herself. We never bonded. I gave up on a relationship with her long ago. She was always a hypochondriac & has been crying wolf for years. She’s a piece of work. I do this bc I’m a good person & I don’t see any alternatives. She doesn’t qualify for any programs & has an irrevocable life-estate trust to live in her house until she dies. I’m the trustee. Six years now. It’s very lonely & sad.

    • At least u r the trustee. Mine has same with person we never hear from. She has PD with dementia. I live in another state, travel back and forth every 6-8 weeks for 6 years now. No contact with siblings, one calls perhaps every two years. No power of attorney. Try talking to someone w/o that. Nightmarish. Lonely and sad does not come close.

    • Shirley W. Ashanti I’m sorry ur stuck in this nitemare. Why do you do it? I think that is the gist of this post.

      • I did it because I wanted to, because I loved my strong, fiercely independent mother very dearly. I was born when she was 15, so we grew up together in a sense. A sense of obligation I never felt. Mama was always my best friend and would try so hard to answer my questions growing up even if she had to get back to me days later. What was hard was not having a POA and trying to coordinate her care. Each time I’d have to find a lucid moment when she was able to give permission for that to occur. Mama died in home hospice six months after my post. I was gratified to bring her home as she didn’t want to be doped up in hospice facility. She was a beautiful person and wanted the best for everyone. I miss talking to her and keeping me laughing

  11. For me personally it’s both. My mother has never wanted to be put in a nursing home. That was her wishes to me when she was first diagnosis with PD and I have sacrificed 21 years of my life to do the best to honor her wishes. She lives with me and has been disabled for 7 years. It would be easy for me to just give up on her and admit her into a nursing home permanently, but It’s a very selfless act of love and obligation as hard as it has been!

  12. Most of the time not at all. But sometimes, maybe 10% it does.

  13. Both. Can’t have one without the other. I stick to this motto: What is good for him is good for me. What is good for me is good for him. -this way, I don’t forget to take care of myself while caring for my father.

    • You are blessed to have a parent like that. xo

  14. Both. I promised my Dad I wouldn’t shove him off in a nursing home “his words” and I kept my promise.

  15. No. For me it was just the exact same thing my husband would have done for me. Not an obligation – wrong word , for me , anyway

  16. It was both for me. I loved my parents dearly, but I knew if I didn’t take care of them, nobody else would. I resented my brother for not helping. I would do it again, because they would do it for me, but it was so hard at times. It definitely went back and forth.

  17. I think it goes back and forth between the two for the length of the process.

  18. Right now it feels like obligation but I do it because I love him. I broke my rib a year ago due to severe pneumonia it hasn’t healed at all. I’ve had pneumonia for more than half a year since and now I’ve had a fever for six days and am extreme pain but my doctors won’t listen because I’m “just stressed “.

  19. Love while you have them with you, because your arms are so empty when they’re gone. Then the guilt sets in for all those times you could have been a little sweeter or more understanding.

  20. For the love he’s my dad and we’ll I’m an only child.

  21. It’s love, and only love…

  22. For me,’s so conflicting..

  23. Both love and duty. I love my wife and the marriage contract says “for better or worse” so I will be her caregiver until I physically can’t do it anymore.

  24. Sadly, sometimes it’s merely a moral responsibility that consumes your life .

  25. Love when you are not exhausted. Obligation when you are.

  26. From the spiritual point of view, mine is a karmic contract, pure and simple. It was made with the soul that is my mother in this life as balance for the lifetimes that she has taken care of me. In physical 3D where we are now, it’s multi-faceted; she’s a very difficult personality this time around and while there is love there, as you would expect, it is not ‘loving’ in many respects as she is a total narcissist. My body is going down the tubes and she’s hanging on because she’s terrified of death. So I would say that the line between love and obligation can be very, very blurry!

  27. Be it obligation, love, or both, it is NOBLE.

  28. Obligation, love and a bit of selfishness not wanting to lose the house I grew up in and then my son grew up in to the state if mom went into a facility. Plus she hated the month she spent at the facility even though we both work there and know the good care given.

  29. Its obviously Both, to most…..dumb question, I’m sorry.

  30. Love .. and respect. It was an honor to help out my husband

  31. For my mother, pure duty, so I would always sleep at night. For my mentor, a complex dance of love, duty, obligation and employment (though it was clearly beyond that). For my husband, a combat veteran who’s Sarin Gas exposure has compromised is cognitve functions, it is love, plain, simple love.

  32. Both, sort of. One sometimes becomes a caregiver because no one else can do it.

  33. Love, though there are times when we’re stretched to the max from lack of sleep or burnout that it can seem like an obligation! Though I would do it all over again knowing what I know now! That’s where the love is stronger than any feeling of obligation !

  34. caregiving is an act of love-without a doubt.


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