Image Credit: Getty Images / Colin Hawkins
caregiver and loved one happily living in the moment

How to Let Go of Perfectionism as a Caregiver

Reading time | 4 mins
The list of what a caregiver needs to be is a long one. But many caregivers pile even more pressure onto themselves, worried they aren’t perfect.
“So what?” says Susanne White, Life Effects contributor and long-term caregiver, “No one is!”
In today’s article, Susanne gives her 3 top tips for letting go of perfectionism in an imperfect world. Read them here.


The truth about being a perfect caregiver: it’s impossible.

I remember pacing back and forth in my sister's bedroom, furious. I couldn't believe the difficulty of sending some of my dad's medical records to his primary care doctor's office.

My dad had collapsed on a flight to my sister's house, where we were spending the holidays. He was taken to urgent care and was told to follow up with his regular doctor immediately when returning home in a few days. I wanted his regular doctor to have all the test results so we could come up with a plan of action. 

I could not believe the seemingly uncaring response I was getting from his regular doctor's office. Their fax machine wasn’t working, then they didn’t have time to look for the fax once they got it running. The doctor was also too busy to take my call and wasn’t phoning me back. I was beside myself. 

This was the first day of my caregiving role and my first attempt at dealing with the healthcare industry! Wow! What a revelation. 

The issue that I was grappling with wasn’t the doctor's office. It was the rage I was feeling.  I was snarky, rude, and difficult. My usual “catch more bees with honey” attitude had flown out the window. 

Why? Why was I so triggered? Perhaps it was my rigidity and perfectionism racing to get the job done properly. I wasn’t prepared for the challenges of caregiving not going my way. I needed to do this perfectly, and I needed to do it immediately. 

I hadn’t yet realized how overwhelming and difficult my caregiving role would be. I hadn’t had time to learn that nothing goes as expected, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do things perfectly! It’s not how it works. Caregiving takes grit, resilience, and commitment, that’s true. But it also takes a willingness to accept the mistakes we make with grace and wisdom to see the lessons those mistakes teach us. 

Perfectionism is not only a waste of time, but it puts unnecessary pressure on you. So, here are 3 things to consider when you want to be the "perfect caregiver.”

1. Perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis

The "three Ps” are Perfectionism, Procrastination, and Paralysis, and they keep us running in a vicious circle. The fear of less-than-perfect results actually stops us from taking action. It freezes us in our tracks.

When we let go of our need to be perfect and embrace our humanness, we free ourselves enough to see all the good we’re doing for our loved one.

We all make mistakes!

2. Mistakes are the best!

Yes, it’s true, even though it might not be fun, everyone makes mistakes and it’s a good thing. Many people around us grapple with their own fear of not being perfect, and they project it onto us. This makes them come across as unsupportive and difficult to be around.

However, what they think of us is none of our business. Once we take responsibility for our own mistakes, the opinions of others don't matter. What's important is learning from those mistakes and see how we can learn and grow from them.

If I had a nickel for every time I've said, "I'll never do that again," I'd be rich. However, I count myself as rich from all the caregiving experiences I've learned from! Mistakes are the fastest way to grow.

3. There’s no right way to be a caregiver and no rule book 

Although we are all on the same caregiver journey, we each travel different paths. My way may never be right for you and vice versa. The only prerequisite to being a caregiver is the desire to serve others and aid in their well-being.

How that looks and how we each make that happen is as different and unique as we are. No one has all the answers, and there is no right or perfect way to be a caregiver. Sharing stories and experiences with other caregivers is extremely valuable if we remember to take what we need and leave the rest.

No one walks in your shoes. As long as what you do is done with love and good intentions, you're doing the absolute best you can do. Make up your own rules and celebrate the ability to learn as you go!

The takeaway

I understand we all want to take care of our loved ones in the best possible way. Yet, we really can try too hard to do it perfectly.

The secret for me was to relax and know I was a good person doing the best I possibly could do. By showing up with love and the desire to help my loved ones, I might not have been perfect, but I was the absolute right person for the job. That was more than good enough both for my parents and for me.

So, forget perfection and embrace your best efforts!

NPS-IE-NP-00477 July 2022