There are many stresses and strains in the
relationship between adult children and their aging parents, but one
of the greatest of these stresses is the daily responsibility of
caregiving. Providing hands-on care, food, shelter, clothing,
transportation and companionship, as well as serving as financial
manager and counsel has become commonplace for many adult children.
Most also have a number of other responsibilities as well: to their
spouses or significant other and to their own children, to their
place of employment, to their social or church affiliated groups and
to their friends. Individuals in this situation are seen as the
“juggler,” trying to give equal time and consideration to all who
want their time and attention, with little time and consideration
left for their own health and welfare. As you can guess, this is not
possible to do on a sustained basis before something starts to
erode. In most cases, this “something” is the caregiver’s patience
and own ability to cope with daily life. Is it any wonder that
people in this “Sandwich Generation” cry out “What’s left for me?”
and “How can I satisfy everybody?” The answer is - YOU CAN’T!
Superman and Superwoman only live in the comics!
There are many feelings and emotions that stem
from this constant stress and strain of serving as the main
caregiver. These include: frustration, anger, resentment, inadequacy
and guilt. Why are adult children full of these feelings,
particularly guilt? They often ask the following questions:
What else can I do to keep Mom or Dad
Am I doing the right thing - have I explored all
the options available?
They took care of me, why can’t I take care of
them now when they need me the most?
Am I weak/incompetent/selfish?
If I don’t devote all my time and energy to Mom
or Dad, will I be a bad “child”?
Adult children who feel guilt manifest this
feeling by being complaining, offensive or accusatory,
overprotective and either visit too often, or not often enough. They
often also feel that unless they can return total care to their
aging parent, they are not doing enough. This is especially true if
there is only one adult child who has the full burden placed on
them, or the one of the “bunch,” most often a daughter or the child
who lives the closest geographically to the parent, who assumes the
burden of care.
What can you do, then, to relieve the guilt that
arises when you have all this demand on your time? When you realize
that things are reaching a breaking point, arrange for a family
meeting, which includes your aging parents, any siblings, your
spouse or significant other and your children. You may want a
professional involved to facilitate. Letting everyone know your
feelings and that you are not able to juggle all the
responsibilities anymore may help others to begin to share the load.
It is important here to recognize that there are many instances
where the main caregiver refuses to acknowledge that they can’t
handle the load— they are too caught up in the daily grind that they
don’t recognize the warning signals (extreme fatigue, lack of rest,
irritability, frustration over lack of time, among others). A
professional, outside perspective in this case would be beneficial
to objectively point out the potential dangers of trying to do
everything for everyone without a break.
Another tip is to negotiate from the start just
exactly what the roles will be in terms of providing care for an
older relative. Ask for and involve outside agency help in order to
get occasional respite. If your parent is resistant in accepting
outside help, demanding that you do the job, be FIRM in expressing
that you have to look out for your own needs. If you don’t, you will
eventually wear yourself down to the point where you are no longer
effective as the main caregiver. You should not feel guilt in
insisting that you take time out for yourself. Remember to follow
through on your plan for getting respite relief—you deserve it! Also
remember that the help you receive is competent and is able to
handle emergency situations if they arise.
With older people living longer, many adult
children are faced with the prospect of being a caregiver for a
significant number of years. It is important for adult children to
recognize that, in many cases, they will never satisfy or
completely fulfill their obligations to their parents, no matter how
hard they try. Many try to seek parental approval by giving up all
their other needs and responsibilities to care for that parent
before that parent dies. For many, there are unresolved issues
between the two generations that adult children feel can be cured by
becoming the main caregiver, to make up for the past. These
unresolved issues will, eventually, get in the way of the adequate
provision of care on a long-term basis. Recognize that fact, with
the help of a professional or through a support group, and come to
terms with this issue with your parent. Letting others provide care
for an older relative without feeling guilty can be a starting point
in the new relationship between the two of you and can be the saving
grace in keeping your own life in balance.
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