Most of the caregivers I’ve spoken to have some level of guilt. For many of us, the guilt is significant. Why is this? The answer may not be surprising.
Caregivers tend to neglect their own emotional needs. Taking care of a significantly needy adult, especially if that person is our parent, can quickly suck us in. One day we’re living our lives, doing all the things most working-age adults do, and then suddenly, our world is upended.
When this happens to younger working-age adults, the desire to continue living our own lives coupled with the emotional need to care for our parent is a tug-of-war that takes a toll on our mental health.
The added demands on our time, the responsibility we feel naturally pull us in many directions. I frequently felt as if whatever I did, however hard I tried, was never enough. Everyone seemed to have expectations and assumptions. The worst offenders were doctors who treated me as if I had nothing better to do and could bring Mom in with little notice.
However, it went beyond doctors, the care home, and family members. I felt guilty for being frustrated, sad, angry at Mom’s disease. Feeling guilty was easy even when I understood it wasn’t serving me well.
Understanding my feelings of guilt were likely caused by not being true to myself.
Guilt is the disparity between the ideal self, a perfect caregiver, and the actual self. My authentic self didn’t seem like a nice person, so I tried to squash those feelings.
Instead of bottling up emotions, had I used my feelings as a guide, things might have been easier for both Mom and me. How so, you ask?
The first emotion I tried to internalize was how much I hated our situation. That made me feel guilty. Instead of allowing guilt to be the dominant emotion, had I dug a little deeper, I may have been able to understand how I could care for Mom and not neglect myself.
Because Mom was in a care home and I visited once a week, I regularly felt as if I had to stay for hours, make every minute a joy for her; the stress was ridiculous. Even when my podcast guests suggested shorter, more frequent visits, I didn’t listen.
Here’s what I wished I knew a long time ago.
When a caregiver is experiencing guilty feelings, it’s not always limited to their caregiving responsibilities. Looking back on Moms’ years in the care home, I realize that many other dissatisfactions were going on in my life.
Because caring for Mom happened abruptly, there were many situations I needed to work through. Had I been lucky enough to have a crystal ball that could have warned me of what was coming, maybe I could have made the adjustments earlier.
Since most of us don’t have this gift, we’re left with few options to plan. Lack of planning is why I stress getting help early in the process. Having others helping out allows us the time to navigate our new normal. Having a therapist or wise friend to talk to wouldn’t hurt either. Find yourself a caregiver support group. I found mine to be helpful one month and then allowed me to share my knowledge another. The give-and-take between the caregivers was very beneficial.
Here’s a great article on how to fix caregiver guilt. I cannot improve on this advice, so I’ll share theirs with you.
Just because we need as much advice as possible, here’s a second article I found to be beneficial.
Podcast Episodes on Guilt
Caregiver Guilt – Before, During & After