Caretaking of parents might be one of the most emotionally challenging things that we do in our lives. If we have a healthy, fulfilling relationship with our parent, profound sadness, grief, powerlessness and confusion will most likely be experienced. If, however, the relationship is dysfunctional in nature, tumultuous, or disconnected, we may feel anger or resentment regarding the prospect of taking care of a parent. Of course, regardless of the relationship, any of these types of feelings may arise.
Between the various stages of decreased mobility and/or lessening of memory of cognitive ability, we may be at one end of the spectrum in which a parent simply needs help with shopping, errands, making calls or paying bills.
At the other end, when a parent has dementia or is wheelchair bound, they may require much more assistance. But at either end, caregiving can be stressful. The National Institute for Health even says that, “Caregiving fits the formula for chronic stress so well that it is used as a model for studying the health effects of chronic stress.”
And we can see many of the same emotions and experiences, no matter what level of care our parents need.
Common Emotions Or Experiences In Care-Taking
Often experienced, either because we believe that we are not doing enough (even if this is not true) or because or we feel guilt that we don’t necessarily want to take care of a parent.
When we used to be able to go to parents for advice and could depend upon them, and now we can’t, then confusion and loss and sadness could come into play. Parents who were very vital and now aren’t the way they used to be can feel devastating.
Acknowledging that a parent may not be with us forever, or even having our own inevitable end shown to us, can give us a real sense of sadness and grief. We might also be grieving for the parent that we used to know – one who was capable of taking care of themselves.
We often doubt ourselves and our ability to handle the physically and emotionally taxing aspects of the job. “Am I emotionally capable of handling this?” We may also experience fear around wondering what is next, either for our parents or ourselves. Any decline in a parent’s health is a vivid reminder that we, and our parents, do not live forever.
Especially if we are with the parent full-time, it can be extremely lonely to spend days with a parent, especially if we don’t have a back-up care-giver.
Other Possible Reactions
Resentment, frustration, anger are also all very natural feelings to experience.
Finding Or Rediscovering The Joy In Care-Giving
However, there are also many positive aspects to care-giving. It can make us feel needed, give us a chance to give back and help others, and give us a sense of purpose. And we can connect with that inner sense of purpose by tuning in to our own emotional needs.
It’s very important to find a balance, because even if we choose to take care of a parent, it cannot be a full sacrifice of our own lives. As well as not being healthy for the caretaker to be angry and resentful, it’s bound to be felt by the parent, which isn’t fair to the parent, and it could affect the relationship.
And we definitely want to avoid care-giver burnout, a situation in which we are easily angered or stressed by the demands placed upon us.
So here are some ways that we can help ourselves to find that sense of good in caregiving
Make Sure That You Are Taking Care Of Yourself, First
As with being a parent, if you are feeling stressed or anxious about your role, then it’s time to take some time for yourself, whether that be with a hobby, a walk, or a nice dinner with friends. If your cup is empty, you won’t be able to fill others’. Here we can include getting enough sleep and making time for exercise, as well.
Emotional Release Work
Move your body in a way that can release whatever feelings are coming up.
Yes, it helps to have a daily plan. What activities do you know need to be done every week (bill paying, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments)? Make sure to schedule time, perhaps at the same time every week, to get these accomplished with your parent. Let them know which days and times you are available, and commit to those times.
But also know that many parents just need someone to speak with, and just generally want your company. It is okay to acknowledge that fact, too, and to let them know that you are available just for reading, walks, or talking.
Find Our Own Nurturer
Find someone in our lives who can give back to us, openly and willingly, so that we can feel taken care of in some way. This may be a friend or partner.
Acknowledge Where You Are
Tune in to how you are feeling, both overall and on a daily basis. It’s important to check in with one ’s self to see if you are up to helping that day. It might be that you need to say no, or find someone else to help at this juncture. Because if we do it anyway, then anger and resentment are bound to increase.
If you feel generally overloaded, look back at your list of activities that need doing. Are there some that can be outsourced? New websites like Taskrabbit allow others to take care of small chores and errands. Or, if you feel very overwhelmed, perhaps it is time to sit down and think about having someone else take care of some duties permanently, at least on a part-time basis.
Share Your Emotions
Find someone to share it with who is emotionally safe and can hold the space to hear and validate our emotions. This may be a therapist, too, someone who is open to listening and understands the demands, without judgment or coercion.
At Nassau Guidance and Counseling, our therapists have worked with many people to explore the feelings that arise for caretakers. We work with each client to understand and find a path to greater happiness that is individual, caring, and committed.