As my father’s caregiver, Mom had a way that was all her own.
She was attentive and loving, while still supporting his independence. She never patronized him and always expressed desire to attend to his needs.
Mom always made caregiving look easy, but I know how difficult it is to care for someone who has advanced mesothelioma. She had a natural skill for taking care of Dad.
She learned how to be a caregiver through experience. Mom never went to medical school or worked in the medical field. She was a homemaker who loved her husband and children.
Her style of caregiving seemed instinctual — she just knew what to do when Dad got sick. I never understood how until I studied psychology.
Doctors study medicine for years to develop their style of practice. They develop a sense of responsibility for their patients, and that helps define their style.
Being a family caregiver is a more personal experience than providing medical care for a random patient. They have a love for family and an inner desire to care for their loved ones.
If a physician develops a style through education, experience and their personality, one might wonder what makes up a caregiver’s style. Most caregivers don’t have formal training that teaches them how to interact with their loved one.
Perhaps family caregiver’s style is more natural — more intrinsic than a doctor’s learned behaviors.
Attachment Styles Form Early in Life
While researching John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s attachment theory, I came across an article that explores the significance of attachment styles in caregiving.
Attachment styles are bonds developed during infancy and early childhood through infant and caretaker relationships. This type of bonding serves as a model for future relationships in adult life.
In essence, attachment styles influence how we treat others and how we expect others to treat us.
Most people in the developmental psychology community recognize several styles of attachment, including secure, avoidant and resistant. These childhood bonds may have implications in how caregivers will care for a sick loved one later in life.
Types of Caregiver Attachment Styles
Our caregiver style is linked to who we are as a person and how we relate to others.
However, a person’s caregiving style doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. Rather, the styles represent behavioral tendencies that exist on a more fluid spectrum.
We all have days where we are better equipped to provide for the needs of others and face other times when we could use a little help.
Many caregivers fall somewhere within these styles:
- Secure Caregiver: Stemming from secure attachment during childhood, this type of caregiver is confident in his or her ability to attend to the needs of a loved one. This caregiver efficiently assesses each situation and responds in a sensitive manner. Secure caregivers develop outside relationships that serve an important role in their support system.
- Anxious Caregiver: This caregiver style stems from more insecure bonds in childhood. Anxious caregivers are less confident in their abilities to attend the needs of their loved ones. Their responses are more compulsive than sensitive, and patients might perceive them as controlling. They tend to be overly involved, which might infringe on patient independence.
- Avoidant Caregiver: These caregivers are less in tune with their loved one. They don’t sustain the same benefits as secure attachment styles in emotional relationships. Avoidant caregivers may not recognize their loved one’s needs or understand how to be emotionally supportive. They might seem withdrawn and insensitive.
Few Caregivers Fit Into One Style
Just as a child’s behavior might fluctuate depending on outside influences, so does the behavior of a caregiver.
Stress plays a significant role in caregiver responses. The important thing to remember is communication. Sometimes our loved one might need us to be more attentive. Other times, they might be focused more on maintaining independence.
As caregivers, we need to be flexible and sensitive to their needs.
No one is perfect, not even medical professionals. Our loved ones recognize us as human beings who are providing care from the heart.
Very few family caregivers have professional medical training. They learn from on-the-job experience. They provide care not with precision medical skills, but with their hearts.
Perhaps author Kahlil Gibran captures the spirit of a caregiver best when he writes, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
Caregivers reserve the best of themselves for those they love. There is not a more rewarding relationship than one deepened through caregiving.