Caregivers–Don’t Become Control Freaks

When you’re a primary caregiver responsible for the well-being of your father, mother or another loved one, it’s easy to become obsessed with the details. You want to make sure your Dad isn’t eating rotten food, so you smell everything in his refrigerator. You note that your Mom’s hair is oily and stringy, so you insist she let you wash it. “And take off that blouse you’ve been wearing all week and put on a clean one,” you add.

I’m not sure if it’s a trait of all caregivers, but I was some kind of control freak when I was responsible for my Dad’s care when he lived in an assisted-living facility nearby. I kept a sharp eye out for his special needs—like making sure there were facial tissues and toilet paper in the bathroom. With his severe short-term memory loss, he certainly wouldn’t remember to restock those items, and I didn’t want him reaching for a hand towel to wipe with—or worse yet, not wipe at all!

So perhaps the controlling started with the best of intentions to make things better for Dad, but I think it escalated to excess. Not only was I obsessed with perfection, but I expected everyone else in the family to take care of Dad exactly the way I would. When my husband and I went away for a month, leaving two of my brothers in charge, I sent them a three-page letter of detailed instructions they were to follow.

Yet, what Dad really loved about visits from his sons was playing with them—going to a bar for a beer, playing shuffleboard, pool or cards. That’s what meant something to Dad when his sons visited, not the fact that they made sure his laundry was done. Dad loved to play cards with me, too, and sometimes I’m afraid I was so obsessed with the housekeeping that I neglected his simple need for my companionship.

I was so good at managing Dad’s life that I sometimes overstepped and did things for Dad that he could have done for himself. One time my sister sent him a tin of cookies wrapped tightly in tape, and as I saw Dad struggle to get it off, I was about to grab the tin out of his hands—something my husband complains I often do to him. Fortunately, I held back that time, and Dad had the satisfaction of opening it himself. It may take longer for our loved ones to do things for themselves, but whenever possible, we should let them.

The times that I remember best now that Dad has passed away are not the hours I spent taking him to doctors or dealing with housekeeping issues. The times I remember best are the ones that made Dad happy in a special way, the days we shared doing fun things.

One day we took a walk in Treman Park along one of Ithaca’s famous gorges. Dad was so impressed with the views of nature, as well as the views of young girls walking by in shorts. After that we had lunch at Friendlies with his granddaughter and great grandchildren. Later, as I walked Dad to his room he said, “You’re a wonderful young lady to have as a daughter.”

Now, I’m not saying that housekeeping, grooming, and doctor’s visits aren’t important. Of course I helped the quality of Dad’s life by paying attention to these details. As a primary caregiver, you have to pay attention to those things, and I guess that’s what contributes to our becoming control freaks.

But it’s also important to relax and let go at times. If you are tense, in a hurry, always focused on managing your loved ones’ lives, you will miss out on the opportunity to share more meaningful experiences with them. You don’t know how many of those opportunities you’ll have, and you won’t want to look back and regret missing them. So stop. Sit down. Have a cup of tea and just be together.


About The Author

Lynne Taetzsch is an artist and writer who became the primary caregiver for her father when he was 93 years old and had severe short-term memory loss. She is the author of The Bipolar Dementia Art Chronicles, a memoir about her experience which is available at She also writes a blog on Caregiving, Aging and Alzheimer’s at

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  • LAAAC is managed by St. Barnabas Senior Services; Funded, in part, by Archstone Foundation.
  • St. Barnabas Senior Services

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