You cannot live a completely guilt-free life, so there is no such thing as entirely guilt-free caregiving, either. However, you can keep your feelings of guilt within manageable bounds.
Research shows that addressing an emotion directly is much more effective than just ignoring it. It is normal to feel guilt from time to time, so once you recognize it, you are much better able to deal with it. Actually reflecting on what you are feeling will be much more helpful than sticking a note to your mirror that reads, “Let go of guilt today!”
Start by examining the ideas that underlie your guilt and consider whether they make sense to you. For example, ask yourself: “Would this idea of how I should be in the world make sense to someone who cares about me? Do I expect other people to live up to this same standard, or am I only applying it to myself?”
If you still find you are condemning yourself rather than placing responsibility where it is due, here are seven ways to cope with caregiver guilt.
1. Reframe the Problem
Instead of beating yourself up, cut yourself some slack. Consider changing “I feel guilty because” to:
- “Even though things go wrong from time to time, I am doing the best I can.”
- “Even though I get impatient sometimes, I know that I am only human.”
- “Even though I am in a difficult situation and have to make difficult decisions sometimes, I know this is the best option.”
2. Make the Time You Spend Together Meaningful
If you act from a place of undeserved guilt, you start to grow resentful. Instead of trying to satisfy all the demands of work, family, and everything else while also saying ‘yes’ every time your mom begs you to stay longer or come to visit more often, practice saying ‘no’.
Set boundaries so that your parent’s expectations are reasonable — and so the time you spend together is as meaningful as possible. Get mealtime conversations going. Share memories with your loved one. Express love to your parents. Especially as the roles shift from dependent child to more of a family caregiver role, you can ensure that your parents feel valued and loved no matter what.
3. Take a Break
You may feel guilty when you take time for yourself, but the truth is, the only way to sustain the love and care you feel your loved one deserves is to take good care of yourself as well. Remember to give yourself permission to breathe, take some time, and focus on some self-care.
Respite stays offer the caregiver a short-term break from the emotionally stressful job of caregiving while their loved one continues to receive the care they need in a safe environment.
Respite care can take many forms and settings; however, a short-term respite stay in assisted living is beneficial for your loved one, especially if you want your aging parent to get more comfortable with the idea of moving to a senior living community. A respite stay offers them the opportunity to interact with other seniors having similar experiences, to spend time in a safe, supportive environment, and to participate in activities designed to match personal abilities and needs. Just like you need a break from your routine, a short-term respite stay in assisted living allows your loved one to have a break and provides a little extra excitement.
Patience typically wears thin when you are worn out and exhausted. If you feel like you are reaching the end of your rope, use that as a warning sign that you need to take a break. It is important to care for yourself and make sure you are getting enough rest so you can be at your best for your loved one. Put your energy into finding time for a break rather than dwelling on feelings of guilt.
4. Let It Out
If you tend to hide emotions you feel are negative, it can be both stressful and dangerous to your health. Negative emotions such as guilt are as natural as emotions such as joy and love, and you have a right to feel how you feel. It is important that you have a safe outlet for those emotions.
Whether you vent to a friend, diffuse your anger through exercise, find a secluded place to have a good cry, or join a support group, it is important to care for yourself and make sure you access caregiving resources to better manage the emotional ups and downs of caring for an aging loved one.
5. Change Your Behavior to Fit Your Values
As caregivers, you need to pay attention to your guilt and what it is telling you. If you feel guilty because you wanted to do something but you did not, you can change your behaviors.
For example, you might feel guilty if your loved one is in the hospital and you did not send a card. Channel that guilt and let it propel you to buy some beautiful blank cards to make it easier to drop a note the next time.
6. Be Gentle with Yourself
Because your intentions are good but your time, resources, and skills are limited, you are just going to feel guilty sometimes — so try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of beating yourself up over it. Accept that you are human and have flaws.
Recognize your strengths and do not focus on the negative. Remind yourself that you can be a better caregiver to your loved one when you get enough rest, eat healthy meals, and have a chance to attend to your own needs. All that love and kindness you have for your care recipient — give some to yourself. You are doing the best you can. And that is OK.
7. Plan Ahead
If you think that one day you will be faced with relocating your loved one to an assisted living community, the best way to address the situation is to anticipate it. Make decisions with your parents while they are still at a place to make such decisions.
Keep your parents in the loop by visiting assisted living facilities with them early on. This allows your parents to remain the decision-makers and can reduce any guilt you are feeling about the role reversal. Making an informed decision about assisted living is a potentially huge step toward alleviating guilt.
Caregiving does not have to be a guilt-ridden experience. Download How to Cope with Caregiver Guilt when Deciding on Long-Term Care, a guide for family caregivers who are struggling with feelings of guilt.