Caregiving brings about a swirl of feelings and guilt is one of them. As the saying goes, guilt is a useless emotion, says Ruth Folger (*). While that may be true, as compassionate human beings we experience guilt more frequently than we may like, especially when it comes to taking care of an aging loved one.
Caring for the elderly is a frustrating task. You may find yourself getting angry at the slightest things, like having to prepare an extra meal or finding the time to help them change. Then, you start to feel selfish or guilty. These feelings are normal, but in order for you to be happy and continuing to enjoy your elderly loved one while they are still here, it’s important to learn to let go of the guilt associated with caring for them.
- Don’t feel guilty for not spending enough time with your loved one. Any time spent with your loved one is quality time – time they will be grateful for it. Most often, when you are acting as the caregiver, it is in addition to the full time job you already have. Think about the time you spend with them like a budget. How many hours a week can you put towards visits and phone calls? Making a mental plan of how you will allocate your time can help ease the guilt.
- Don’t feel guilty for taking a vacation. This is probably one of the biggest fears caregivers carry with them. In addition to not spending enough time with a loved one, you feel the second you leave or go away somewhere that you’re going to get “the phone call.” Thinking this way will only add more stress to your life and make the time that you do spend with your loved one strained. If you want to go away, have a plan in place in case of an emergency, but do not halt your plans all together.
- Don’t feel guilty when other emotions take over. Do you sometimes feel like you are losing your patience? Some days are more difficult than others, and occasionally your emotions may take over. This is completely normal. No one is perfect and you are allowed to be angry, sad, or tired. Just take a deep breath and remember that it is okay to feel this way.
- Don’t feel guilty when you find yourself resenting this role. Being a caregiver is a very trying job. Resentment is another emotion that can develop over time. You begin to resent your loved one for the little things they do. You resent that you are in charge of being the caregiver. You resent other members of your family who could be helping a lot more but aren’t. At the end of the day, you have to remember that you are doing the right thing. While something trivial may send you spiraling down the path of resentment, you know deep down that you would have even more resentment if you weren’t helping out your loved one.
- Don’t feel guilty for taking time for yourself or the other members of your family. Do you want to read a book? Catch up on your favorite TV show? Go get a massage? Do it. You deserve to take time for yourself so you can rejuvenate and relax. When you take time for yourself, it can help ease your guilt and the other emotions because you are restarting your mind. You may also have a family of your own, and they need to spend time with you as well. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, but make sure you aren’t neglecting your family or friends because you’re taking care of one of your elders.
- Don’t feel guilty if you have to put your loved one in a nursing home. No one can do it all, and it is okay to ask for help. As much as you would love to be the sole caregiver of your loved one, with full-time jobs, families, and other obligations, it can be close to impossible. You can relieve yourself from a lot of stress when you find the right healthcare center to move your loved one into. There are many stigmas against senior homes, but in today’s society, most of those are just old wives’ tales. Finding a good senior home can be the best decision you make both for you and your loved one, mentally and physically.
With care giving comes a lot of stress. It is essential that you don’t let the guilt associated with that stress consume you.
(*) Ruth Folger Weiss is a writer for the Westgate Hills Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Baltimore, MD, who shares with us tips for busting the guilt associated with caring for an elderly family member.