Don't Let Guilt Get in the Way of Proper Care

I advise adult children each and everyday regarding the best living alternatives for their parents or other family members. Though many issues are discussed, first and foremost, safety is the number one priority which needs to be considered.

Many feel an enormous weight of guilt and sometimes even a sense of failure for the inability to care for aging parents. Guilt, helplessness, and the pain of realizing that you may not longer be suited, or able, to give your elderly parent what he or she needs is a huge burden for any child to feel (regardless of age), and it will take time and a lot of patience to be able to deal with such feelings about parents care.

Coming to a decision that your parent may need more specialized care and time than you are able to provide is not easy. When assessing the need for more specialized elderly care for your parent, you may need to take the following issues under consideration:

  • Is my parent able to stay safe in the current living environment?
  • Can I devote the time necessary to adequately care for my elderly parent's needs?
  • Do I have it in me to handle my parent suffering from a cognitive disorder such as Alzheimer's?
  • Am I able to help my aging parent with mobility issues?

However, any such decision often brings with it a heavy toll such as feeling like:

  • Should I be doing more? Better?
  • Am I doing things right?
  • Is my elderly parent too much of a burden for me?
  • I'm so tired! I just want my 'old' life back!
  • I'm inadequate, ill equipped or emotionally weak!

When feeling guilty, adult children often tell parents what to do and they do this with the best of intentions. However, the number one fear of older adults is losing their independence and often, adult children trigger that fear when they tell their aging parents what to do. Aging parents then become less willing to share information about their health or struggle to continue to live independently. The result is typically some sort of accident or crisis, exactly the outcome the adult child was hoping to prevent. They give in to their kids' demands and just try to get by. They may become unhappy, depressed and withdrawn.

A different approach is to share your concerns with your parents. Use "I" as much as possible since the word "you" tends to make others defensive and they stop listening. For example, instead of saying “you should move since you can’t be alone anymore,” you may want to say “it’s becoming very difficult on me and the rest of the family to travel so many hours to see you.” Ask your parents for their ideas on how to solve the problem. This step is a process and will not be solved with just one conversation.

Be willing to compromise. Is it more important that your parents make some changes or that nothing changes? Listening and respecting your parent’s opinions can also increase the chances they'll be willing to make further changes in the future.

In William Bakkus book called "Telling Yourself the Truth, " he brings up the following points to caregivers feeling guilty:

1. You did not cause this disease.

2. Your loved one would not have wanted you to stop living.

3. Being a caregiver was one of the most noble and wonderful things anyone can do for a loved one.

4. You did the best you could under the most extreme care giving circumstances.

It is important that you give yourself some time to adjust or to let all of those feelings out or to grieve, just know that the goal is to begin living again while keeping your loved one safe.

Frank M. Samson is Founder of Senior Care Authority based in Sonoma and also hosts “The Aging Boomers” on KSVY 91.3 or www.ksvy.com, every Monday at 2pm. The company provides free assistance to families in helping them find In-Home Care, Independent and Assisted Living for their loved ones. He can be reached at 707.939.8744 or e-mailed at frank@seniorcareauthority.com. The company website is www.seniorcareauthority.com.