Dealing with guilt, a common emotion for caregivers

My mother’s recent visit from New Hampshire was one of the highlights of my year thus far, but I can’t help but feel some guilt as I look back upon her stay.

Before she came, I was committed to finding the perfect balance between making her visit enjoyable and special, while at the same time respecting that at 88 years of age she needed some rest, too.

Prior to seeing me, she spent a week with my sister in Del Mar. They dined out, went shopping, visited with friends, got a manicure, and toured San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  

A week later, my mother arrived at my house with my sister and her husband, the day before the Senior Concerns gala.

Attending the gala was fun and exciting for my mom, but also exhausting. She stuck to the couch the next two days, recovering from overstimulation and a very late night.

Two days after the event, I took her to see 80 for Brady, because she loves Tom Brady, and I thought she would find it fun. She slept through most of the movie. Not because it was not interesting, but because I think she was still exhausted.

I prepared a luncheon for her and two friends of mine. We also enjoyed cocktails at a restaurant with two other girlfriends one night. Lovely visits, but I felt my mother was coming along because it was something I wanted to do, rather than an outing for her.

During her visit to my house, my mother developed a stiff neck. For anyone who has had one, you know how painful they can be. We tried some heat, and some pain relievers but it really never resolved.

As hard as I tried, I don’t feel I succeeded in showing her a great time or in providing her with a restful experience. If I put a name on the emotion I was feeling, it was guilt.

Guilt is complex, especially for people who are in the family caregiver role.

I only cared for my mom for a little over a week and I felt inadequate. I was doing my best balancing act, trying to make this visit one that she would forever remember, and one that she would return home from happy and relatively healthy. 

My mom is an early riser. At home she gets up at 5 am to enjoy her coffee and toast while she watches the morning news. I set my alarm every morning to get up before her, making the coffee so it was ready when she came downstairs.

I tried to anticipate her needs each day.

I am sure if you were to ask my mother, she would say she had a lovely time, and I am being too hard on myself.

Oftentimes that’s what family caregivers do. They are hard on themselves.

Experts explain that guilt occurs when we feel inadequate in some way. Even when we're doing the best we can, we all have limitations that can make us sometimes feel as though we're not doing everything we can or should do on behalf of those we care for.

For family caregivers it’s important to recognize the emotion of guilt. Ignoring it can cause caregivers to feel overwhelmed or constantly worried. They may feel tired, and either get too much sleep or not enough sleep.

Carving out self-care time is critical to help with those feelings. But it is not always easy to make that time for ourselves. Sometimes we need help understanding how to practice self-care.

If you are a family caregiver and are feeling a sense of guilt or inadequacy, consider reaching out to Senior Concerns Caregiver Support Center and speaking with their Care Coordinator Hannah.

The center offers a full array of support services to provide relief and assistance to family caregivers, and serves as an essential resource for emotional, social and physical support, information and respite from the stress of caregiving.

Prioritizing self-care is an important tool to managing the emotions that come along with caring for a loved one.


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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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