If the job of being a caregiver only involved giving help to your aging parent such as doing the dishes and helping fill out the Medicare paperwork, your life would be considerably easier. And if that were the case, even if there was a lot to do, the problem of caregiver burn out would not be such an issue.
But the real drain on you and even on the senior citizen you are taking care of comes in the emotional toll that the care giving relationship brings with it. Because the “assumed understanding” of the care giving relationship is based on the extended giving of a very large favor, guilt becomes a common element in every aspect of the time you spend with your aging parent.
It’s very easy for the senior citizen to feel guilty for asking you for the work you do to take care of him. It’s a strange situation because in most cases, they never asked. You may have stepped in because you saw your parent’s life beginning to unravel and you knew that someone had to help get his retired life organized. And yet, the senior citizen feels a lot of guilt because you are giving him huge amounts of time and that is time away form your family and maybe your work to do things for him unpaid and very often without thanks.
It doesn’t help that the time of transition from independence to assisted care is one of huge loss of self esteem for your aging parent. There are a lot of tremendous changes that happen in rapid order for y our parent and they happen in areas of life that have remained unchanged for decades. If inside of a year your mom or dad go through a loss of their home to go live in an assisted living facility, loss of mobility because they cannot drive and loss of independence because everything is being done for them, that causes a lot of negative emotions. Guilt makes its appearance because they feel irrationally that if they had not grown old, this would never have happened.
But guilt also is an issue for you, the caregiver. There always seems to be something more you could be doing for your parents. It doesn’t help that the senior citizen you work so hard to care for also inflicts guilt on you by whining, “I wish you never had to go home” or by complaining about their lives and getting angry.
So what can be done about all of this guilt? Guilt doesn’t make the relationship better and it doesn’t improve the quality of life for the caregiver or from the senior being cared for. So whatever we can do to shut it down would be a positive step for both parties.
Probably the most proactive thing you can do about guilt is confront it directly. Sit down with your aging mom or dad and get those guilt feelings out in the open. It’s not their fault they got old. Your parent should not feel guilty about being cared for by you. After all they cared for you for decades when you were just a child and young adult.
But taking the teeth out of guilt, you have a real chance of getting that out of your relationship. By learning not to put guilt on each other, you become a team in care giving, not combatants. And these are positive steps toward a healthy senior citizen and caregiver relationship.