Caregiving

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Today’s reading was about caregiving versus giving. Giving, she stresses, honors both the giver and the recipient. Caregiving, does not.

This is a hard one for me. I yearn to be a caregiver. Maybe that’s because I’m a long-distance mom and that role–being the go-to, being the planner, being the problem-solver, being the shepherd, being the necessary “no”– is somehow intrinsic to who I am. Unfortunately, an intimate partner is looking for an intimate partner, not another mom.

But yet it’s hard for me to separate the role of intimate partner and the role of caregiver. Sometimes caregiving is called for–when another is sick, injured, hurting, or needs help. I want to fix things. It plagues me when I can’t. I ruminate when someone doesn’t share their thoughts with me because surely I have something meaningful to contribute and if they don’t want to share with me, perhaps it’s because it’s negative. Perhaps they don’t value my advice, or opinions. Perhaps they consider someone else’s advice or opinions more important. Perhaps–gasp!–they’re planning to exit stage left and leave me emotionally and financially bereft, picking up the shattered pieces left of my heart, dignity, and life as I knew it.

Eh, I need to work on this caregiving thing.

I thought about posting on Facebook, “What is caregiving versus giving?” And I realize that caregiving is about control. And giving is about sharing.

When we give something important to us–our time, our attention, our thoughts, and more–there is a transfer of power, a transfer of control between giver and recipient. In such a way that it empowers both–the giver by the joy of giving and the recipient by the joy of receiving without strings attached.

And this is a place where I go wrong quite often. I think I’m giving, but instead I’m caregiving. And what’s worse, I expect accolades in return. I thrive on compliments and “atta-girls” and when I do something with expectations–with strings accompanying them, and my expectations are not met, the compliments do not come, or are not as heartfelt and grand as I imagined they should be, I take it very hard. I bristle. I withdraw.

While I recognize I need to practice more giving, I wonder how fine that line is between giving and caregiving. The motivation behind caregiving seems somewhat selfish. The motivation behind giving seems more selfless.

And maybe the real crux is that when you caregive you want the appreciation, the accolades, that praise because in some ways it a return of the part of you given to the other person. It’s a return of your self. So caregiving really then becomes a lending of sorts: “Let me give you a part of of me, but you need to return it at some point.”

When you caregive and don’t receive that care back, you feel depleted. You empty your cup and when your expectations for return “care” are not met, you become a shell over time. Resentment sets in. Bitterness takes hold. You simply don’t want to do it anymore.

Giving is…giving. It has a sense that it’s not costing you anything. Whatever you’re giving, there’s more of.  No loss. You do it because it brings you joy and it brings the receiver joy, too. Or relief. Or lightens a burden.

I need to work on this. Giving is not my strong suit in intimate relationships. I do everything with expectations on how my actions will be received by the other person–but not really. No, I do everything with expectations on how my actions will be fed back to me.

And I think that’s because I’m not feeding myself.

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