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Bittersweet Confessions

Guilt and the Working Caregiver

elderly man and adult child son fishing together outside at lake in sunshine

I should spend more time with Mom. But when I do, I feel like I’m shortchanging my kids. I should take Dad to all his doctor appointments. But I feel bad about missing work. I try to help them around the house. But I can barely keep my own house clean now. I feel like I should be doing better – for everyone.

There are a lot of people caring for parents while working, and guilt is no stranger to them.

  • The percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years.
  • 91% of adult child caregivers are daughters who work full time, and are married or live with a partner.
  • 22% of caregiving sons and daughters report dealing with guilt multiple times a day.

So, if you’re feeling guilty for anything – including for feeling guilty – take heart. It’s actually pretty normal.

Reasons for Caregiver Guilt

There are a lot of reasons working caregivers feel guilty. The most common is feeling like you’re not doing enough to help your loved one. You have responsibilities at work, at home, with your spouse, partner and kids, and there’s just not enough time in a day to get it all done. However, 34% of adult children feel they are the only ones who can take care of their loved one properly. Beliefs like this lead to taking on too much caregiving responsibility – which sets you up for failure, and then feeling guilty when it becomes too much to handle.

The Family Caregiver Alliance says that guilt in caring for care receivers comes in many forms.

  • Guilt for not being able to prevent them from getting sick in the first place
  • Guilt for being impatient
  • Guilt for not doing a ‘good enough’ job
  • Guilt for thinking about your own needs
  • Guilt for feeling like you want it to end

Guilt can also stem from feeling like you’re not spending enough time with your kids or spouse, from struggling with your workload because of your caregiving tasks, and from not doing enough to take care of yourself. It’s a pernicious emotion that makes everything harder, which can lead to more struggles and – you guessed it – more guilt.

Tips for Working Caregivers

So, what can you do to manage caregiver guilt? First, realize that guilt is a signal for you to do some things differently when it comes to both processing your emotions, and how you care for your loved one.

WorkingDaughter.com has some Do’s and Don’ts that can help you make those changes so you can stop feeling guilty and appreciate the hard work you do.

Do

Show yourself compassion. All that love and kindness you have for your care recipient – give some to yourself. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. And that’s ok.

Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect. Sometimes you’ll be exhausted or grumpy, and sometimes you just need a break. All that is normal and totally forgivable. It’s worth repeating – you’re not perfect. You are human.

Establish priorities. It’s not possible to do everything, so you’ll have to make some choices. What are your caregiving strengths? Prioritize tasks in those areas so you’re not putting an extra drain on yourself by trying to do things you’re not that good at. Talk with your employer about caregiving if you need flexibility.

Don’t

Don’t think you can control the situation. There’s nothing you can do about illness, other people’s feelings or schedules. They are out of your control – and out of your area of responsibility. When you can let go of feeling responsible for everything, you can let go of some of that guilt.

Don’t try to be perfect. Setting a standard of perfection is setting yourself up for failure. No one but you expects you to be perfect.

Don’t should yourself. When you have too many sentences that start with “I should…” you’re carrying the burden of false expectations. The Family Caregiver Alliance also recommends dropping “should” from your thought process and changing it to regrets. Instead of “I should work late,” or “I should call my mom every day,” try “I’m doing the best I can, and I regret that I’m not perfect.”

“Help” is Not a Four-Letter Word

If guilt is signaling that it’s time for a change, look for some help. For example, private-pay in-home care and companion care can bring assistance to the home. Assisted living and memory care communities provide 24/7 care in a supportive, social environment.

Research your options guilt-free, because that they not only make it easier for you to be a caregiver and avoid burnout, but also help you ensure your parent gets the care they need on a consistent basis.

Making the Most of Your Time

Here’s one more important tip for you: Sometimes the laundry can wait. You don’t have unlimited time in your day to spend with your parent or loved one. It’s easy to focus on the tasks of caregiving and miss out on opportunities to spend meaningful time together. We’ve put together a list of 10 simple things you can do together They don’t take a lot of time or money, but they can pay off in big ways – including relieving you of some of that guilt you’ve been carrying around.

10 Things To Do Together

Sources 

  • The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, 2011
  • Caregiving in the U.S. 2015
  • State of Caregiving Report 2015
  • Family Caregiver Alliance
  • WorkingDaughter.com

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Wonderful, hard, frustrating, funny – what life as an adult child of aging parents is really like.

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