7 Reasons You Don’t Want To Be A Hero In Caregiving

Guest Post By Jennifer Fitzpatrick of Jenerations Health Education

“She heroically cared for her mother.”

“He is a real hero in the way he’s caring for his wife.”

I’ve heard many versions of this sentiment referring to someone in the caregiving role as a “hero.” While the person commenting means to give the caregiver a compliment, the term “hero” can unintentionally pressure mere mortal caregivers to be superheroes. Here are 7 reasons why caregivers should not strive to be heroes:

1. Heroes are super-human. Caregivers are not. Caregivers are simply human beings doing their best to take care of someone they love who is injured, ill or disabled. They don’t possess the super powers or mystical abilities of a superhero. Caregivers sometimes wish they did have super powers but it’s important for those of us who support them to acknowledge that they don’t have a magic wand to fix all of their loved one’s problems.

2. Heroes tend to have no social life. The Fox Television show ‘Gotham’ depicts a teenage Bruce Wayne training for his future as Batman rather than playing sports, video games or just hanging out with friends.

While heroes like Bruce Wayne don’t socialize much, caregivers who want to be physically and mentally healthy should. Socializing, taking breaks and not isolating themselves are essential for a caregiver to remain as healthy as possible so he or she can maintain the caregiving role.

3. Being a hero is tough on romantic relationships. Consider Spiderman/Peter Parker’s ongoing challenges with Mary Jane. Superheroes are constantly making big sacrifices for the “greater good” so their personal relationships suffer.

Caregivers should not sacrifice their romantic relationships when taking care of a loved one. When a marriage or romantic relationship suffers, caregivers have less emotional support. No matter how busy caregivers are with the loved one they care for, they should always prioritize their partners too.

4. Heroes are secretive and lonely. Heroes can’t be themselves all the time. Most superheroes are dressing up in costumes and hiding their true identities. Very few people know the real person behind the hero façade.

Caregivers whose costume includes acting like they always have everything together are typically falling apart behind closed doors.

5. Heroes don’t always collaborate well. Heroes often have difficulty admitting when they need help. For example, Superman tends to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.

While many caregivers struggle with asking for and accepting help, especially initially, it is absolutely essential for the caregiver’s well-being. No caregiver should exist in a vacuum. The primary caregiver needs to be the captain of the ship with plenty of first mates.

6. Heroes are invulnerable. The DC Comics’ website cites invulnerability as a superpower possessed by both Wonder Woman and Superman.

I have never met a caregiver who wasn’t vulnerable. Caregivers give their money, energy and time to care for a loved one, often expecting nothing or very little in return. They are frequently criticized by others in the family for “not doing it right.” They are also quite vulnerable to physical and mental health conditions when they don’t get help with their caregiving duties.

7. Heroes have unrealistic expectations of themselves. Recently when watching Christopher Nolan’s Batman film series, this was illustrated when Michael Caine’s Alfred reminds Bruce Wayne to know his limits. Christian Bale responds that Batman has no limits.

Caregivers who believe they have no limits and hold unrealistic expectations of themselves are headed for burnout. Who will care for the loved ones dependent on them when the caregiver crashes and burns?

Aim to be a real-life, human, good enough caregiver. Maintain relationships. Socialize. Have realistic expectations of yourself. And most importantly ask for help. Stop trying to be a hero—it’s impossible and unnecessary.

Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University is the author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One (www.cruisingthrough which was published on Sept. 27, 2016. The founder of Jenerations Health, she helps organizations and individuals boost productivity, morale and revenue through generational awareness. You can find her at www.jenniferfitzpatrick or on twitter @fitzpatrickjen.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.