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Dealing with Family Caregiver Guilt

By Eric Carter

Caring for a loved one when they need you the most can be rewarding, but it comes with some unique challenges. Caregiving can put pressure on your other relationships and your career and lead to caregiver burnout, when you start to feel overworked, stressed, indifferent, helpless, and guilty. Feelings of guilt can weigh heavy on your heart and mind and reduce the quality of your own life. In this post we will discuss the most common reasons behind caregiver guilt along with some tips to overcome it.

Not Enough Time

When a loved one needs you, it can be hard to step away. You may feel guilty that you can't be there more often. However, the rest of life—your career, family, friends, and other responsibilities—still demand your attention.

You may also feel resentment about the free time you're giving up — time you normally spend hiking, reading, cooking, or doing something else. The free time you once had is now spent caring for your loved one. You might also feel guilty about taking time away from your kids, spouse, or career to focus on caretaking.

What to Do: Carve out some time for you. This might mean hiring a professional caregiver for just a few hours per week so you can take your kids to the park, prepare dinner for the family, or go to the gym. Your role as caretaker is important, but you can't serve anyone if you're not feeling your best. Taking that time for yourself makes you a better caretaker, not a worse one. Delegate some tasks to free up additional time for you. For example, coordinate with other family members to assist your aging loved one.

You might also explore the option of respite care for your loved one: short-term in-home professional caregiving so you can take a vacation with your family or spend a few days focusing on a big work project.

The Dynamics of Your Relationship

If you're caring for a senior parent or grandparent, there are years of history between you that may not have always been pleasant. For example, you might resent your mother for needing you now when she wasn't there for you at a critical time in your life. Realize that it’s okay to have these feelings and don’t let guilt overtake you. Additionally, your habits of communicating with each other may actually get in the way of how you want or need to provide care, and that can lead to guilt, too.

What to Do: AARP suggests focusing on morality rather than sentimentality. Think of this senior as a human being who needs help getting through the day rather than a parent who fell short. Stay neutral but compassionate, and let go of the idea that you'll be able to mend the relationship at this time. 

Pressure From Your Loved One

As you care for your loved one, they may say things to make you feeling guilty, intentionally or otherwise, about not spending more time with them or somehow not performing up to their expectations. They may drag up past incidents or arguments. You might feel that you're a caregiver, not because you want to, but because you'd feel guilty otherwise. 

What to Do: Remember you're doing the best you can. You can't control how they choose to behave toward you, but you can choose your response. Your loved one is human with complicated emotions, and the way they act toward you may have more to do with their own circumstances than with you. 

Feeling Inadequate as a Caregiver

You're not a professional caregiver, so at times you may feel like you're not doing enough, or you might feel guilty that you don't have a better understanding of your loved one's condition and options for treatment. The guilt may stem from not having the proper equipment or skill set to manage your loved one's condition. 

What to Do: Educate yourself. Join a support group, talk to your loved one's doctor, or read books about any medical conditions you're dealing with. The more you know, the better you'll feel about caretaking in the circumstances. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Every caretaker has different resources, skills, qualities, and relationships with their seniors. You're doing the best you can with what you have. 

Not Enjoying the Process

No matter what job you do, there are parts of it you won't like. That doesn't make you less effective as a caregiver, and it doesn't mean you don't love your family member. 

You'll make mistakes. You'll get grumpy and maybe say something less-than-kind at some point. You're not a bad person for wishing you could have your "old life" back. This is all normal, and you can forgive yourself each time. 

What to Do: It's okay to like what you like and dislike what you don't. Those are simply preferences. Focus on the parts of caretaking you enjoy—like spending time with your loved one or cooking a healthy meal—and view the other parts as tasks that must be checked off your to-do list. 

Conclusion

As a caregiver, remember that you're job isn’t to rescue your loved one. You're providing support and much-needed assistance. Let go of expectations that you'll heal a difficult relationship or that you'll help cure your loved one of his or her illness. Try to look at the big picture. What good is coming from this time? What are you learning that you can apply to other aspects of your life? Remember that this period of your life will end. As you care for your loved one, it may be wise to expect to feel a little guilty. Instead of feeling guilty about that guilt, accept it and recognize that it is normal and completely valid.

To learn more about how caregiving can affect caregivers, download our free resource: The True Cost of Caregiving.

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Tags: Caregivers

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