Background: In the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere, family care is important as a complement for older people in the professional care system. Better understanding of this role could lead to better cooperation between professionals and family carers and better use of family carers as a resource in care for older people. Aim: The aim of this study was to explore experiences of the role of family carers of older people in need of services and therefore to increase our understanding of this role. Method: The study was designed as a qualitative interview study. In 2014 and 2015, we conducted semistructured interviews with a varied sample of 16 family carers of older people in both urban and rural locations in Norway. Interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically. Findings: The way the caregiving role was enacted varied greatly between the family carers in this study, but they all conveyed mixed feelings regarding their role. They saw caring for their relative both as a duty and a strain, as well as a choice and a meaningful task. One reason for their engagement was perceived deficiencies in professional care services. Family carers thus felt they made a difference to the older person's well‐being and health, and more so if this role was acknowledged by professional caregivers. Conclusions: This study suggests that in spite of or perhaps even because of feelings of obligation and strain, family care is experienced as highly meaningful. However, it seems important that family carers receive explicit appreciation from professional health or care staff.