Christian Counseling: Excessive Care Giving Is Caretaking

To most, care giving is an act of love demonstrated by doing things for the benefit of another's welfare, such as doing favors and completing tasks for a person in need who is unable to do things for himself or herself. But what do we call it when we give to those not in need and are able and should do those things for themselves?  Doing things for others that makes their lives easier may be an act of love, but it may also be excessive care giving or caretaking, which I use synonymously. The key point of discernment is distinguishing those receiving the care who are "capable" of doing it themselves AND "should" do it themselves from those otherwise. 

Care giving to those not in need is often done without much thought and qualifications or boundaries. One may think, "If I see something that can be done for another, I should do it, for doing good to others is what I am called by God to do; it is my responsibility." Sounds nice! Sounds mature! Sounds loving! However, do you see any problem with this initially kind thought?

Permit me to clarify. Is it healthy care giving or problematic caretaking for a husband to stay home from work to take of his wife who is having an emotionally troubling day? How about a father who completes the last two math problems his son didn't finish when he's already asleep for the night? Consider a mother who takes her son to school because he often gets up late and misses the bus. Is it care giving or caretaking when a wife goes to the store to buy beer for her tipsy husband to avoid the possibility of his getting a ticket and/or arrested? How about a friend who quietly expects or repeatedly asks you to do many favors? A final consideration is, what do we call it when a labeled "strong" or "capable" daughter nearly runs herself in the ground by taking on the majority or full duties of tending to an ill mother, to the near exclusion of other family members help? 

The answers to the above are, it depends. It depends on the circumstances. Generally, if it is a very infrequent request or act it might be fine. But, "No!" if it is a pattern of behavior. Further, those who determine to act on their friend's or loved one's behalf, should also communicate their concerns about the issue and set boundaries around what the care receiving person can expect the next time a similar situation arises. In the case of the avoidance of care giving for an ill mother by other family members, of course, the strong daughter should continue to ensure the mother gets the care needed until it can be worked out between family members.

Further making the distinction between care giving and caretaking may be helpful. Care giving has a healthy view of everyone's responsibilities and acts appropriately in loving another. Caretaking is not an act of love. It renders powerless, inactive, and dependent those who receive excessive care giving. For example, God doesn't simply give us a job because we asked Him for one. He expects us to network, search and interview. If God answered all our prayers quickly and completely, leaving us with little to nothing to decide or act on, it would not be an act of love, but of caretaking. The next request we might make of Him is "Make me to be like Jesus!" with the expectation He'll do it all and we can avoid having to go through the hardship of personal change. Another example is God will not honor our request to give clean water to the world's thirsty because He has already given us this responsibility. He isn't going to care give when it is our job to care give. Yet, I believe He helps further our actions when we step out in faith to do our caring part.  

What happens to those beneficiaries of our excessive care? They become lazy, expectant, dependent, and develop a sense of entitlement. Giving to these people isn't loving, but harmful to their development and needed maturation. Once the so called caring behavior becomes part of normal relating, try to change it, just try to do less. Receivers will react negatively and feel care has been abandoned. An example of this is a large portion of Greece's population who demand their government continue to care for them in ways previously established. Consequently, conflict ensues and hurt abounds.

In all caring situations, adopt the standard not to repeatedly do things for others who are both capable of doing them and should do them. The exception to the rule is the occasional giving of a gift of our time and energy to lighten the load of appreciative others. 


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