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Perspective: Childhood experiences influence family caregivers


November is National Family Caregiver’s month. Like millions of other Americans, you may have experience providing essential care and medical assistance to someone you know. Have you ever thought about how your childhood experiences may impact the care you provide your ill loved ones? From surveying caregivers across the country, my colleagues and I have found some major motivators in providing good care to loved ones that connect back to childhood experiences with one’s parents.

The first is that some caregivers want to reciprocate good care to their sick parents, spouse, or other relatives or friends because they received good care, in general, from their parents in childhood. On the flip side, caregivers might also provide good care even if they recall more negative care toward themselves from their parents in childhood. This is because they wish to stop the generational handover of negative care. Another primary driver of providing good care as a family caregiver is feeling an obligation to do so, regardless of the quality of care one received from their parents in childhood.

Former First Lady Roslyn Carter once said, “there are four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.” Given the ubiquity of family caregiving, thinking about how past experiences might impact this role so many take on is something we can consider as we celebrate the contributions of caregivers this month.

I’m M. Courtney Hughes, and that’s my perspective.

M. Courtney Hughes is an associate professor of public health and the faculty athletics representative at Northern Illinois University.