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As a family caregiver, your life is in a constant state of finding balance. No one can do it all all the time. You’ll be forced to make compromises, hard choices, and prioritize to your best judgment. You can’t control everything – but a lot of unnecessary caregiver guilt comes from unrealistic expectations. Those expectations can come from the loved one in your care, family members, cultural traditions, or yourself. Regardless, part of your role will be managing expectations for yourself and your loved ones as you absorb the responsibilities of a family caregiver. This article will help you do just that.

Determine and Create a List of Needs

The first thing you’ll want to do to set good expectations is to understand exactly what you’re up against. Take stock of every task – from cooking and cleaning to transport and errands. The list will vary. Things that may affect it include:

  • Your loved one’s ailment 
  • Their age
  • The condition they’re in
  • Where they live (rural or urban)
  • Others who are around and available to help
  • Etc.

Review Existing Obligations

Your loved one’s needs are only a piece of the puzzle. You’ll also need to review your existing obligations and responsibilities. Take stock and make a list of the things you need to get accomplished in a day, week, or month. 

Include things like:

  • School or extracurricular activity schedules
  • Your work schedule
  • Home care
  • Errands
  • Time to rest
  • Social obligations
  • Etc.

Take a look at both lists. It’s more than likely you can’t fit all of it in. That’s what we’ll help you work through, next.

Accept Fluidity

Once you’ve reviewed the lists and decided where to focus your energy, find ways to delegate responsibilities that don’t fit. There are a lot of ways to find help:

But also keep in mind that your loved one’s needs will change over time, and your schedule and/or your family’s schedules will not remain constant. Fluidity and prioritization will remain key themes throughout your caregiving journey.

Recognize the Pressure and Where it Comes From

As we touched on at the beginning of this article, a lot of the expectations for you will come from your friends, family, cultural norms, or the loved one in your care. Their expectations can weigh heavily on you and your decisions. 

For example:

  • Caring for a parent who refuses to accept help from professional caregivers and insists/expects you to do everything they need without question
  • A familial/cultural pressure making you feel as though you should reorient your life around care and family obligations
  • Siblings who may see you as the oldest, the childless one, the freest, closest in distance, or the most responsible and assume you’ll take the brunt of the workload because of it
  • Caring for someone who expects you to do everything because they raised you/contributed to your upbringing
  • Or yourself, deciding that for whatever reason, you’re responsible for everything

Once you identify the source of the pressure, it’s easier to decide how to handle it.

Communicate Effectively

Now is the time to set boundaries and stick to them. The more confident you are in your communication, the better. 

Here are some tips to help you manage expectations:

  • Be clear about what you can and cannot do. If you’re not comfortable with needles, for example, there’s no reason to volunteer for injection duty.
  • State what tasks you’re taking on. Make it clear who owns which tasks so that everyone responsible knows their role and takes ownership.
  • Ask for help when you need it. If your schedule changes or you need rest, for example, you can and should ask for help.
  • Use assertive communication and hold the line. Avoid being wishy-washy where possible, or the lines you draw in the sand may seem flexible and harder to hold as time goes on.

Plan to Reevaluate

As we’ve touched on, the needs your loved one has will likely change over time. Plan a set schedule (every month, every quarter, or every year) to reevaluate their needs and your ability to meet them. 

If you don’t set aside/dedicate time to evaluate, you may never take the time to do so. As such, you’ll likely absorb small additional responsibilities over time that add up to a far greater workload than you can handle, potentially leading to stress, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, illness, or burnout.

Closing Thoughts: Managing Caregiver Expectations

Being a family caregiver comes with a horde of responsibilities, but you don’t have to meet everyone’s expectations. Unmet expectations will happen, and that’s all right. 

All you can do is your best – if there are more responsibilities than you can meet, or your life starts to suffer as a result of the weight on your shoulders, there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries and sticking to them. If you are caring for a loved one, we invite you to check out our library of free resources for caregivers like you. 

The California Caregiver Resource Center is a 501c(3) nonprofit network of 11 Centers covering the entire state of California here to help connect you with medical resources and support in this journey. To get more information about the resources we have available to you as a California caregiver, contact us at the California Caregiver Resource Center nearest to you or join CareNav for free today. 

Further Reading: How to Support Independent Living: Keeping Your Loved One Safe and in Their Home

As a family caregiver in California, you know that supporting your loved ones at home is a growing challenge. You are essential in helping them stay independent. In this guide to independent living, we’ll show you how to safely support your loved one(s) in their independent living goals. Click here to read all about it.

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