When You Feel Guilty as a Caregiver
"My 88-year-old father lives across the country. I manage annual trips to visit him, though the day-to-day tasks that help him stay home fall to my mother and siblings. I try to assist when I come for a visit, but I know I am only scratching the surface of what it takes to help him.
I cannot shake this feeling of guilt, and I am not able to simply leave my job and move back home. Many of my friends are glad to leave the caregiving to their brothers and sisters. They do not seem to care that they are not carrying their share of the load. I, on the other hand, feel badly that I do not do enough. What is the solution here?" - READER
You are an observant and sensitive child who happens to live far from home. You are in good company with many other children of elderly parents. I say you are observant because you seem to fully recognize and appreciate the work that your siblings are doing to help your parents. Indeed, the caregiving they are doing takes time, and it matters a great deal to both of your parents.
Rather than worry about not doing enough, develop a plan that offers real relief to your siblings in unique ways. While there is no one way to do this, I am providing a list of suggestions for you to consider.
- Let your siblings know that during your visits you are willing to transport, shop, clean, and run all errands for them. Ask them to provide the schedule, then dutifully execute the tasks when you are home. You will not do things identical to their style, but try to follow their system without too much change.
- Pick a project that your parents need to have accomplished, and make it happen when you are there. It could be cleaning the yard, trimming trees, washing windows, or any other assorted jobs that take dedicated blocks of time.
- Entertain your parents for the week or so that you are home.
- Prepare a special dinner for your family or host one at a restaurant, your treat. This sends a clear message that you appreciate them.
- Tell your siblings how grateful you are for the work that they do to help your parents manage. This cannot be overdone.
When you come for a visit, you will work hard and feel more satisfied if you accomplish things that are material. It may not feel as much like a vacation, but it will give you satisfaction and the peace of mind that you need.
Now when you are handling your share of responsibilities, remember to be avoid being critical of how your siblings manage things. No two adults do things the same. Before you open your mouth to make suggestions, remember who is doing it week after week. Offer your opinions carefully. Family harmony and shared respect will work best to provide the optimal support for your parents.
I wish you well as you navigate caregiving from afar.
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