As a child, your parents probably took good care of you. If yours were like most parents, they were smart, capable, strong, and always there. It can be difficult to watch as the heroes of your childhood transition to forgetful, confused, or physically debilitated seniors who are no longer able to take care of themselves.
Today’s adult children – many of them members of the “Sandwich Generation,” simultaneously caring for aging parents and boomerang millennials – have a tough job. You may feel stretched thin, resentful or just plain tired, and these feelings can often fill you with guilt. Although it is a perfectly natural emotion, guilt is in and of itself draining, so it is in your best interest (and your aging parent’s) for you to find healthy, manageable ways to cope with it.
First, let’s take a deeper look at what causes caregiver guilt, a feeling which usually stems from believing you’re not acting or thinking well enough. For example, you may feel as though you’re giving your family short shrift, or as though you’re not spending enough time with the aging parent – who may have very little else going on and treasure that time.
Or perhaps you feel guilty because you’re exhausted, angry, resentful or assuming your role purely out of duty rather than interest or love. You may even hate your role, and secretly wish for the aging parent to pass so that you can go back to a normal life.
Whether you are suffering from just one of these guilt inducers or all of them, know that it is very natural for you to feel this way. No one sets out in life to become an unpaid assistant, especially when it means watching a loved one you’ve historically counted on age and change. It’s possible that the guilt you feel will never go away, but it doesn’t need to dominate your life.
How can you manage caregiver burnout so that your role doesn’t eat away your life? There are several approaches. First, leverage community resources to your benefit. Perhaps you can find a support group that will help you process your feelings more effectively, or a senior group with which your parent can spend some time without you there. You might find transportation services or adult care centers useful.
You can also enlist other family members. Make it clear to your siblings and your children that they have a role to play as well, and be firm. Chances are they’ll step up.
Beyond finding emotional solutions to deal with the guilt you feel about your caregiving, which is an excellent approach, you should also take steps to improve your physical and mental health in other areas of your life. Get exercise and put a priority on enough sleep and healthy eating.
See friends and family other than your parent, and spend time with them talking about something other than your duties as caregiver. Set aside time to just be you, to pursue the hobbies you love, and to keep your relationship with your spouse and children strong.
Caring for a parent isn’t easy, and may fill you with guilt and sadness. That’s okay. All you can do is your best.