Caregiving When You Don’t Feel the Love
By Sally Abrahms
There are some people who love to take care of their parents. They feel close to them, valued and needed. But, if you were to poll many people (or be privy to their therapy sessions), they would say how hard caregiving is emotionally, physically, and sometimes financially, and how they feel divided between their owns needs and their parent’s. They might tell you they don’t want to do it. And, some would say they can’t do it anymore, if ever.
We are supposed to want to take care of our parents or aging relatives. If we don’t, we usually feel guilty and bad. We may not discuss these complicated emotions for fear of being branded “selfish” or “uncaring.” But it is perfectly normal to have mixed feelings even when you adore your parent or spouse.
While most people just deal with their conflicted thoughts and continue to be supportive, there may be times when it makes sense to limit contact – or even remove yourself from the role of caregiver, particularly if you are dealing with physical or verbal abuse or siblings that make involvement almost impossible. You may need to be self-protective and decide it is healthier for someone else to do the caregiving.
When You’re Reluctant to Be a Caregiver
- Who am I doing this for? Is it because regardless of my feelings, I think being a caregiver is the right thing to do? You may decide to give it your all for yourself, not for Mom. That’s okay. You will know you have done everything you can and have no regrets.
- Why am I caring for Dad? Is there no one else? Is it because I want to be a good role model to my kids? There may be many reasons.
- Am I making the right decision? Share your feelings with a friend, online or in-person support group or a mental health professional. Google “I don’t want to take care of my parent anymore” and you will see you have lots of company. Of course, not wanting to do something because it is unpleasant, not fun or inconvenient does not excuse you. Still, acknowledging your ambivalence and your feelings does not make you selfish or uncaring. Don’t be hard on yourself. Put another way, be kind to yourself.
- Am I just burnt out and need some help, or do I really want to stop caregiving? Respite services, whether informal (a family member) or formal, can give both you and your parent a break. Then you will be able to think better.
Your Caregiving Options
- Something’s got to change. You either need more help, or you need to change the dynamic or the situation.
- Have a family meeting to discuss your thoughts and next steps.
- Can you lighten your load and/or reduce contact by delegating to others—siblings, relatives, your children, professional caregivers? Should you hire an Aging Life Care professional to see what your parent’s needs are and ways they can help? A comprehensive resource: the Family Caregiver Council, a national group of experts, has information and advice on major caregiving topics on its website.
- Set boundaries and ground rules. You might need to tell them Mom will help her at certain times of day, unless there is an emergency. If your parent is rude, demeaning, demanding or ungrateful, let them know that if they behave poorly, you will get off the phone or leave their house. Of course, if that behavior is due to dementia, it’s a different ball game.
- Can you participate indirectly such as paying Dad’s bills online, speaking with his doctors and making sure he is taken care of? If you decide to limit contact, can you help organize his support system or find someone who can?
It’s possible you just need a breather, but whatever you decide, if you want to be the best partner, parent or friend, take care of you.