ARGH: It’s Not About Putting Your Life on Hold

trophy_640As I write this, I’m listening to the Quarterly Family Caregiver Coalition webinar, hosted by National Alliance for Caregiving. A presentation given about the Shire BRAVE Awards just ended. The award honors “ordinary people who give of themselves by caring for others in a meaningful, dedicated and selfless manner.” Each recipient of a BRAVE Award receives $10,000 USD or the local country currency equivalent.

You can learn more about how to nominate yourself or another family caregiver here. You can submit a nomination until June 30, 2013.

An employee from Shire, plc, the award sponsor, spoke about the program and encouraged us to get the word out to you. After his formal presentation, an attendee asked, What are you looking for in the nominations?

The employee answered, We’re looking for someone who has put their life on hold to be a family caregiver.

No, I screamed. No!! (A mute button means I’m the only one who heard my screams.)

This is exactly the message we work so hard to change–that you have to give up your life when you are a family caregiver. Oh, my, we work so hard to share suggestions, coping strategies, ideas, support so you don’t put your life on hold.

And, just a few moments ago, another presenter during the webinar spoke about nominating a family caregiver for the award who she knows put her life on hold. I’m jumping out of my skin. ARGH!!!!

I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t recognize that parts of life go on hold during caregiving. But, I worry so much that the message becomes this: You must put your entire life on hold because of caregiving.

In 1995, I started an award called Caregiver of the Year. (I stopped holding the contest in 2009 because so many companies started doing the same and gave away much better gifts than I ever could. Anyway…) When I created the award, I decided the criteria for the winning five family caregivers must reflect their ability to move through life with caregiving along side. It’s not about stopping life for caregiving but about learning how to bring caregiving along.

In my award, an independent panel of judges chose five winners based on the following criteria:

  • The caregiver’s ability to complement their caregiving responsibilities with their own needs and interests.
  • The caregiver’s problem-solving techniques.
  • The caregiver’s use of community services.
  • The caregiver’s community involvement.

These criteria feature solutions, coping strategies and a life outside of caregiving, which become inspiration for others to think, “Maybe I can do that, too. Maybe I can have a life.”

I think it’s awesome to honor family caregivers. I love that we have awards now that give money to cash-strapped family caregivers. These awards get the stories out about family caregivers and their incredible impact in their families and our communities. I beg these companies who create these awards to really think about the message they’re sending–and to make sure the message focuses on making compromises for caregiving not life sacrifices.

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23 Comments on "ARGH: It’s Not About Putting Your Life on Hold"

Profile photo of ejourneys
Apr 30, 2013

I’m nodding at your screams, Denise! :-) If ever there were a need for an op-ed article…

“Putting your life on hold” plays into every martyr/saint stereotype, which serves to further isolate caregivers IMHO. (I view my own life as being redirected by circumstance — radically changed, yes, but not put on hold.)

Furthermore, that kind of pigeonholing can be dismissive and therefore damaging, especially with so many services being cut. (Why bother being an activist and a disruptor in the hope of improving conditions for caregivers when we are “content” to “put our lives on hold”?)

After all, not being content can make us dangerous. :-)

Profile photo of
Apr 30, 2013

Putting everything on hold is exactly why I’ve been so stressed out and grumpy!

Apr 30, 2013

Yeah, that’s got a whole tonne of victim-hood roaming about. I really like the criteria you established Denise and frankly am gonna steal them for a new blog! Thanks for the inspiration.

Profile photo of Casandra
Apr 30, 2013

Even with everything that is going on right now for us and all the uncertainty, I am finally realized the importance of taking that time for me. It makes me less moody… LOL

Seriously, this is what people need to know and learn… how to use and find their resources and how to remember to take care of themselves. Your criteria, Denise, is what people need. Not the opposite. What helps me is hearing about the person who is taking care of someone and going to school or finding a way to get promoted at work and also helping others. Those are the things that inspire us.


This a great question and a definite Catch-22. I do take time for me, but that eventually does mean putting other stuff on hold. There are only so many hours in the day. I do love the idea, however, of not considering one’s self as a victim. On the contrary, one is offering service to those who have taken care of us in the past and this should be approached with an attitude of honor and dignity, rather than one of victimization.