By Kristine Dwyer, LSW
Douglas Heck, PhD
The phone call came on a misty Sunday morning. Mary’s
mother had fallen at home and was hospitalized with
severe injuries. Mary and her sister were
contacted by their elderly father and a social worker
and encouraged to return home to help their aged parents
make medical decisions, straighten out financial and
legal matters, and find home care services. They were
called to be caregivers yet found themselves facing this
role with great apprehension and mixed emotions as they
considered stepping back into their parents’ lives.
Memories of a difficult childhood and stressful
relationships had led the family to years of
estrangement. At this point, they looked for guidance
and answers to the dilemma they faced.
this scenario is a common one. We have often assisted
caregivers with this dilemma and would like to offer
some insights to help those of you who may be facing
caregiving with great uncertainty.
First, please know that you are not alone. Many
caregivers across the country find themselves having
mixed feelings about caring for their parents. Some of
these emotions arise from the natural concern about how
best to provide care without adversely disrupting one’s
own busy life. However, it is also very common for
caregivers to have even stronger feelings, such as
shame, bitterness, and anger as they try to cope with
the caregiving needs of elderly parents that have caused
family issues to arise.
Our relationship with our parents may suddenly be in a
state of change and as we age we are often called from
our role of a child to take on a parental or
authoritative role. It is important to be aware of the
possible dangers of unresolved issues and identify the
feelings that have come forward through this situation.
This time of transition can cause strong yet dormant
emotions to surface and open old relationship wounds. If
we are not aware of these feelings, we may be at risk of
inadvertently targeting our vulnerable parents with our
anger. Sometimes, if unresolved issues and
associated strong emotions are ignored, our ability to
provide good care can become compromised. We may become
less gentle, supportive, or empathic in our care. We may
also become avoidant, or respond more slowly to our
parents’ needs. In more severe situations, angry
caregivers may unknowingly seek revenge or cause harm,
which is dangerous for both the caregiver and parents.