The early stage of caregiver responsibilities (Episode 45)

In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about what it’s like to be an early-stage caregiver, including her own experiences with her family. Kay has identified four stages of caregiver responsibilities – early-stage, short-term or acute, long-term or more stable and post-caregiver – and has recorded an episode about the caregiver experience in each stage. Over the next four weeks, you can listen to whichever episodes in this mini-series are most useful to you. And you can also recommend specific episodes to help a friend who wants to better understand what they are going through as a caregiver.

Learn more about all of this work at

Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: What it’s like to be in the early stage of caregiver responsibilities (Episode 45)

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin and you’re listening to From One Caregiver to Another. This is episode 45.

If you are new to this podcast, I’d like to let you know to go and take a look at my website at slash learn more. There, you’re going to find information on my upcoming webinars and workshops on boundaries and on human giver syndrome.

Most of what I do these days is virtual, because that seems to be what people with caregiver responsibilities can fit into their life.

So I’ve got a workshop coming up to help you learn about boundaries as the holidays approach. And that will begin in mid-October. If you want to find out when that registration goes live, make sure you sign up for my newsletter and yes, you can do that on the learn more page.

Today, I’m going to talk about the first stage of being a person with caregiver responsibilities, and that’s what I call the early caregiver stage. I started talking about the stages of being a caregiver initially because I thought it would be helpful for me and my clients, rather than just trying to lump everything together into a single category of being a caregiver. That’s just too broad to be helpful about the experience of being a caregiver. It is how we do tend to talk about being a caregiver as if it’s just the same thing the whole time you’re doing it as if it feels the same that whole time. But, you know, if we did that for something like parenthood or a marriage, people would think we were being silly.

The four stages of being a caregiver that I talk about are these number one is early caregiver. Number two is short term or acute caregiver. Number three is long-term or more stable caregiver. And number four then would be the post-caregiver. So across this episode and the next three that follow, I’m going to explain these stages and help you understand the experience for the caregiver in each of these stages.

So this is basically a miniseries on these stages and I’m doing this so you can get a better understanding of whatever stage you’re in right now. Or you can direct a friend to the specific episode that is most helpful and relevant for them. In all four of these stages.

I want you to know that you, if you are a person with caregiver responsibilities, no matter which stage you’re in, you are going to hear and absorb a lot of messages telling you that because you are a caregiver, you don’t deserve to take care of yourself anymore, that you don’t deserve to have boundaries. You’re not allowed to say no to the care receiver. And that you don’t deserve to put yourself first ever. None of these things are true and they certainly aren’t factual, but you’re sure going to hear them from a lot of people as if they are factual and people are going to talk to you about it in both direct and indirect ways.

So they’re going to say, you should be ashamed of putting yourself first, but they’re also going to talk about the ways people have been a caregiver in their life where they didn’t put themselves first. So it’s really important for you to know right now, if nobody else has ever told you that you still deserve to have choices, you are still a whole individual person with your own needs. And you are allowed to still be yourself and have your own identity and your own family and your own career. If you want one.

I don’t know of anybody else out there who talks about the stages of being a caregiver. Well, at least not as it applies to the experience of being a caregiver because of people tend to talk about it at all it’s usually in relation to what’s going on with the care receiver. It’s help I think we all need though. So let’s do this.

As I said, today’s episode is about the early caregiver stage. You can recognize if you’re in this stage, when you notice that you’re starting to spend a fair amount of time helping someone or thinking about helping someone or when you’re starting to spend more time coordinating daily activities for someone else.

You don’t have to live near the person you are helping. Actually living near the person you are caring for isn’t a requirement in any of these stages. But I think it’s especially the case here in this early caregiver stage that you might not live close by.

When you look back afterwards as you’re a caregiver for a longer time, what you’re going to notice is that this early caregiver stage was a time of not just increased caregiving load, but also a time of planning and a time of becoming.

And it’s a time when you’ll start to really set the stage about how this relationship is going to look and work for you over time. By the way, if you haven’t listened to episode 26 of this podcast, which is about the most common beliefs and stereotypes that I have identified about what it’s like to be a caregiver, you might want to give that episode a listen that’s 26.

None of these beliefs or stereotypes have to be true, but the early caregiver stage is when they start to sort of seep into your thoughts. And this is when you start to drift into maybe believing these things have to be true for you because they’re what people think of as the common or a traditional experience of being a caregiver.

In other words, this is the stage when you really begin to start to build or reinforce your beliefs about being a caregiver. And it’s also the stage when you begin to train the people around you about how they are going to treat you and interact with you once you become a more visible caregiver.

This is also the time when some magical thinking can start to creep in. When you start to think things like, well, if my dad moves in with us, surely he’ll finally change. I can finally make sure he stays on his meds and I can finally keep an eye on his health and make sure he eats right. And you know I say this is magical thinking, because if you’ve always had a strained relationship with the person you’re caring for, that’s not going to change as if somebody waved a magic wand and sprinkled fairy dust on both of you.

I want to tell you that you can change a relationship, but the only way to do it is to change how you participate in it. You can’t change another person. If the person you are caring for has always criticized your weight or your spouse or criticized how you keep your house, that is only going to change if you change. Another example here would be if your parents tend to spoil your kids rotten. Well, that’s not going to change unless you change your relationship with your parents and the time to start changing this relationship, changing the way you show up in the relationship, is when you are in the early stage of being a caregiver. You can do it at any time, but it’s easier if you do it as early as you can.

Now, not everybody goes through this early caregiver stage. I want to be really clear about that. Some people dive into the next one that I’m going to talk about next week, which is that short term or acute situation.

But I started this journey in that early caregiver stage. And I just want to talk to you about what that looked like for me, what my life was like when I was going through that. When I was in the early caregiver stage, I found I was spending more time thinking and worrying about my parents. And I was always trying to plan how to visit them more often to just help them do the things they were starting to need help with.

And at the same time, my two boys were starting to have more opportunities to do things like sports and after-school activities. And the older one in particular had friends and he wanted to play with them. So we, my husband and I, were starting to feel very stretched in terms of time and social opportunities that we could do together as a family.

For me, for us, all of this culminated back in 2011. So it’s been 10 years now. And at that time, I found a job close to my parents so that we could move our family to be near to them.

We actually ended up buying their house and property, then we built a house for them that’s attached to the garage. But I’m skipping a whole part here that I want to tell you about in is my early caregiver stage with my parents, where it began.

Anyway, I didn’t even know back then that I was doing something revolutionary, which was this. I was having a series of conversations with them to talk about what it would be like to transition to becoming their next door neighbor and eventually to have more advanced caregiver responsibilities. I can recall having these conversations as far back as 2010 though it’s true that I may have been doing it earlier.

I can remember searching online for help on how to have these conversations with them and have these conversations with my sister and my two brothers as well, but there was just nothing out there to help me. There’s still not much, but today, at least I’m talking about it. And I have seen a tiny handful of other people talking about it somewhat.

In these early conversations, we were my parents and I, we were essentially talking about boundaries and figuring out how to become adults who could set new boundaries and new kinds of boundaries in new ways. And I just want to let you know, this was long before I had any professional training in and understanding of boundaries and how critical they are and also how difficult they are, but that’s what we were doing anyway.

We talked about what we were looking forward to and what we were worried about or not keen about at all. My parents were excited about the idea of having their grandsons living next door. And I really understood that, but my husband and I were very independent and we were not willing to let our kids be spoiled. And I told my parents that.

And all of us were worried and a little confused about what kinds of conversations we were going to have to have about money and finance. So we actually then hired a financial planner who was an expert in elder finance. And that company helped us set up all of the legal paperwork that we were going to need.

And at the same time, I started to talk to my siblings about what we did and did not want and need from them. It was when I was in this early stage of being a caregiver that I started to practice having difficult conversations and learning how to processnhow my relationships with the adults in my life were going to change.

I started to teach myself to process the guilt that I was so good at putting on myself. I started to learn how to handle the shaming and blaming that was beginning to come at me from some people. I didn’t really know what I was doing in all of this, but even back then, I just couldn’t imagine making a change this hard without preparing for how all of our relationships could change and might change.

So I just made it up as I went along. And I really want to give my parents a lot of credit because they were eager to have these hard conversations too. I know it wasn’t easy for them either, but they made a huge effort to try anyway. But I also want to say that they made the effort because I asked them to do it. I initiated the hard conversations and they were glad to go along with it.

So then in the next couple of years, I really continued to be in this very early caregiver stage. And for me, this would be from 2012 when we bought their property and then built them their house, until probably 2017, maybe 2018. So it was several years for me.

And in the middle of this stage, back in 2014, my dad died very suddenly. At the time, my mom didn’t need too much help from us other than just companionship. So I was spending a lot more time with her, but I was just keeping her company. And this continued until at some point I just realized we had transitioned into more of the long-term stage of me being a caregiver.

It was very gradual for us. And the main things that changed were for mom, she was starting to limit her driving a little bit, and then she was starting to need just a little bit more help with some of the tasks of her everyday living. Looking back now, what I can tell you is that when I was an early stage caregiver, I didn’t realize how much of a favor I was doing for my future self, for who I am today.

If you are an early stage caregiver, now is the perfect time to learn how to tune into yourself in, into your emotions and to learn to speak up and have difficult conversations, if you need to. This is the time to learn about how adults in adult relationships can set and enforce boundaries in new ways and can learn how to ask for help too if that’s hard for you.

If you are in the early stage of being a caregiver right now, and you’d like to talk about how to start setting up your life now and setting up your mindset now so that you don’t get trapped by stereotypes and traditions and existing family dynamics and expectations of other people, well, please reach out to me. If you go to my, you’ll see a link at the top of the page it’s in the top, right. And it just says, schedule a call. And that’s how you can get in touch with me.

Or you can join my Facebook group, that would be a great idea for you. And that group is also called From One Caregiver to Another.

And as I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, I’ve got a workshop coming up on boundaries and the holidays. And if you are an early stage caregiver, I think that will be a fantastic way for you to learn how to take care of yourself. Even when your family dynamics seem to be against you.

Coming up next week on the podcast, I’m going to talk about the short-term or acute stage of being a person with caregiver responsibilities. And I’m going to talk more about what my relationship with my mom has been like since I really moved past that early stage caregiver stage.

And remember this whole series, actually all of this podcast, but especially this series, this is going to be about what it’s like for us as caregivers. This is not going to be about the care receiver experience. So if you are a caregiver, this is all about you.

Thank you so much for listening today. You can learn more about me and about all of this work, that’s facilitator on And there’s just a lot of really good stuff there for family caregivers. And there you’re going to see links to the book that I wrote and to learn more about human giver syndrome and learn more about boundaries.

And if you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who want to dare to live their own lives, please follow me on Instagram. And you’re going to see a link for that in the show notes. If you liked this episode, please leave a review, which will help other caregivers find their way here too.

And definitely consider telling a friend who also happens to be a caregiver. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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