Can a Caregiver Be Too Helpful?

I took my youngest daughter to her softball practice yesterday evening.  She played hard.  She bats well, throws hard and loves to run.  She wore herself out.

As we were walking up the hill from the field she stopped, turned, and pointed to her bat bag she had left behind the backstop.  She asked, “Daddy, will you go get my bag?”

I stopped and replied, “No, Sweetie.  You’re the one playing ball, you get your bag.  I’ll wait for you.”

Then, when we got to the truck, she took off her very muddy shoes and dropped them on the parking lot.

“I’m too tired to pick them up and put them in the back of the truck,” she complained when she saw the question on my face.

“Toughen up, Girl,” I replied, “you can do it.”

“Anyone who is tough enough to get them muddy, is tough enough to pick up shoes and put them in the back of the truck.”

She returned to her shoes, picked them up and tossed the over the tail gate into the back of the truck.

I want my daughters to be independent, tough and responsible for their world.  When they start something, I expect them to finish it.  Even when it takes longer because they’re tired.

I’ve thought about last night’s exit from the ball field today.  I treat my healthy daughters very differently than I treat my wife who has Multiple Sclerosis.

If my wife were playing softball, I’d carry her bat bag for her and I’d pick up her shoes for her.  She wouldn’t even need to ask!

But, why?  She’s a tough lady.  And I want my wife to be just as strong and independent as my daughters.

I like to think it’s partly because I’m a southern gentleman reared to hold doors and umbrellas; taught to walk by the curb on sidewalks, eager to carry packages for ladies, with a strong desire to treat all females with respect.  Mostly, though, I treat my wife differently because I want to make her life easier.

MS isn’t easy to live with.  If a person lives with MS, they’re obviously “tough”.  Multiple Sclerosis is a heavy burden.  So, if I can ease my wife’s fatigue by carrying something for her, I’ll do it gladly.  If cleaning the kitchen gives her more “leg hours” to enjoy for herself, I clean the kitchen and wash the dishes.

The list of things I’ll do for my wife without being asked is very long compared to what I’ll do for my daughters.  They have the strength to do it for themselves.  “Don’t be a quitter.  Be a go-getter!” I tell them.  To my wife I ask, “can I help you with that?”

Sometimes I wonder, though.  How do I know I’m drawing the line in the right place.  What if I’m being “too” helpful?  What if by making life a little easier for her, I’m actually preventing her from being as tough as she really is?  What if being helpful so often really isn’t helpful?

Would she walk further?  Could she carry more groceries?  I think she would and could.  Would it be good for her?  I don’t know.  I do know she would be much more fatigued and stressed.  Would that be good?  No.

And I know if one of my daughters had MS such that she were so easily fatigued, I wouldn’t make her carry her bat bag if she had worn herself out playing ball.  I’d carry it for her.

As a caregiver, if you wonder when or whether your caregiving might be “too” caregiving, there’s a simple way to find out.  Ask the person for whom you care if you’re doing too much.

And remember, what you’re needed for today may not be what you’re needed for tomorrow.  The symptoms caused by Multiple Sclerosis vary over time.  You may need to do the grocery shopping for several months in a row and then be surprised when you’re told, “I’ll do the shopping today.”

When that happens, let your loved one do it.  Grab a cup of coffee and a good book.  Enjoy the moment!

 Caregiver Tip:  Talk with the person for whom you care about what help is needed and remember that the need will change over time.

One Comment

  1. Laurie said:

    Great question and thoughts!
    I suppose a caregiver could be too helpful but it is certainly a matter for discussion and “working it out” with the person needing help! But being too helpful is probably not too easy to do! There is a point when MS takes away the ability to get some things done without help. Needing help can be very humbling… and goes against the grain of a “Just do it” society, but more importantly, receiving help or providing help, gives many opportunities for thankfulness, whether one is thankful for the help or thankful to be able to help!

    November 21, 2012

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