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Removing the Guilt of No Longer Being Able to Care for an Aging Parent

Caring for a parent
By Kathryn Parks

They took care of you when you weren’t able to care for yourself. It seems only logical that as your aging parent becomes unable to handle their own basic needs, you return the favor. Right? Yet what happens when you realize that you can no longer take care of them anymore?

Feelings of guilt during this time are normal. In an interview with SheKnows, Karen Whitehead, a social worker who specializes in guilt-ridden caregivers said, “Caregivers may feel guilty that they’re not doing enough for their loved one or they may feel guilty that they make a choice to prioritize themselves or other family or friends.”

When you know that it’s time to get outside help, what’s the best way to address the guilt you feel about it?

Why do you feel guilty?

Sometimes, it’s helpful to stop for a moment and analyze your feelings. Is it because you feel like you should be able to do more? Do you feel like you are choosing your own life over theirs? Are you physically unable to meet new needs from your parent, such as helping them up and down stairs?

Often times, guilt comes from an opinion the caregiver has formed on their own about being able to do better. Yet even if you desperately want to provide the care they need, it isn’t always possible. If you yourself have a back injury and your parent needs physical support, it may not be possible for you to provide care.

When you feel guilty about not being able to care for your parent anymore, it may be helpful to remind yourself the reasons why you can’t. There are many different situations that may occur which require you to step down from care, and these are valid reasons. While feeling guilt is natural, reminding yourself why you can’t can help.

It doesn’t mean you love them less

If you need help taking care of your parent, or you need to step down from the responsibility entirely, it doesn’t reflect on your love for them. Even if you’re no longer their caregiver, you’ll probably still call, visit regularly, or show them your love in other ways.

Caregiving is a relay race, and when it’s your turn to pass the baton on to someone else, you should not feel guilty about not running the entire course by yourself.

Planning ahead can help

Sometimes, you know that eventually you will be unable to care for your aging parent. This may be because they have a cognitive disease that will eventually need 24 hour care, or that you yourself are older and may become too frail to help.

In these cases, letting your parent help in the decision making process as early as possible can help assuage some of the guilt. If they agree that they want a home caretaker rather than to go to a facility, then it will help you feel less guilty when the time comes for that to happen.

Caretaker guilt is a normal part of caregiving, and it can be difficult to completely eliminate these feelings. If you continue to feel guilty even when you know you’ve done everything you can, it may be best to seek a therapist to help you cope with this difficult decision.

For more information or for help, reach out to the caring experts at Homewatch CareGivers of Ellicott City. Here, home care is human.

Additional references:

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2019/opting-out.html

https://motherrr.com/help/topics/caregiver/elderlyparentsandguilt/