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Caring-For vs. Care-Taking

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

"The genesis of most difficult and troubling family relationships is the lack of understanding the difference between caring-for and care-taking another person."

Are you a “Caring-For" person or are you a "Care-Taking” person in your various family roles? And do you know the difference? If you don’t, you are probably experiencing a strained relationship with one or more of your children, an aging parent or even your spouse or a sibling.

If you are experiencing any of the above strained family relationship issues, we would like for you to think about how you relate too or engage with the person with whom you have the uncomfortable and tense relationship, and then see if the following definitions can help you better understand how you might be contributing to the discomfort.

I define "Care-Taking" as doing for another person what he/she is capable of doing for himself/herself or should be doing for himself/herself. This can range from telling him or her what to wear, how to behave, how to solve a problem, and more.

So, what’s wrong with doing these things for the person you love and care about you might be asking? The problem is that when you are a "Care-Taker", regardless of your family role be it a parent, spouse, sibling or child of an aging parent; your relationship with the person you are "Care-Taking" will eventually deteriorate. As a "Care-Taking" person, you are indirectly indicating that you think the "Care-Taken" person is not capable, nor responsible, nor trustworthy. You will be viewed as controlling, and you will hear statements like “let me do it” or "stop telling me what to do” if you are fortunate enough to have the person you're “Care-Taking" stand up to you. Unfortunately, however, most people being "Care-Taken" quietly distance themselves from the unknowing "Care-Taker" who will wonder why he or she is being ignored and unappreciated.

Conversely, could it be that you’re being “Care-Taken”. Can you see why you are feeling as you do toward your “Care-Taking” family member? And if so, how do you think you can address this family relationship issue?

I define “Caring-For" another person as holding him/her responsible for doing what he/she is capable of doing or should be doing for himself/herself. This is difficult and often scary as the “Caring-For” person will be giving up control while fearing the person “Cared-For" will fail to accomplish the expected outcome or in some way hurt himself/herself physically or emotionally.

Now think about your strained family relationship. Can you see how you may be indirectly contributing to the discomfort and tension in the relationship? And if so, do you think that by giving up your control and placing the responsibility for doing where it belongs, your relationship will be less strained and tense?

And conversely, as we stated above, do you better understand why you feel as you do if you’re being "Care-Taken”? And are you willing to take responsibility for your part in your dysfunctional relationship and share your feelings with the other family member?

As we are sure you realize, this is very difficult and requires a great amount of courage.

I hope this reminder has been helpful. Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or questions about this complex relationship subject.

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