Handling Caregiver Guilt Is a Balancing Act

Handling Caregiver Guilt Is a Balancing Act

Being a caregiver always requires balance, but especially during the holidays.

During the holidays a caregiver’s guilt can increase.   The balancing act you have carefully created is challenged.  Routines are set aside and you are often pulled in many different directions—especially if you have grown children who don’t live near you.

How do you cope?   You might even be tempted to stick to your routines.

Your arguments:

  • I won’t enjoy the travel because I’ll feel guilty
  • something could happen and I’m responsible
  • no one else can handle Dad (Mom)—I’m it!  I have to be there

Counterpoints to each of these statements:

  • your caregiving is a balancing act
  • this balancing act always has fragile underpinnings
  • you are not infallible; illness or injury could sideline you at any time
  • even if you think you are THE ONLY ONE, you can find a way to balance your ongoing life and still care for and love this person;  they would want that

The hardest part?  Admitting that the counterpoint statements are true and making decisions to alter your routine and give yourself a break.  Keywords again: balancing act.

This is the second year of my entire life that I will not see my mother at Christmas.  Her dementia has greatly progressed and she is very debilitated, unable to leave her facility.  This year the focus will be on my nuclear family—my adult children, their partners and the grandchildren.  We will all be together miles away from where my mother lives.

Will I feel guilty?  Honestly, no.  Here’s why:

  • my family needs me too—I have to assess more than just one person’s needs—again the balancing act
  • I have banked many hours of giving and loving and helping my mother; now I am drawing on those deposits and allowing myself time away
  • I have back-up—both of my brothers will see our mother Christmas week
  • I can better help my mother if I allow myself time off—if I did not, resentments would build and hurt my caregiving

Even though I’ve been in a caregiver role for a long time, it has taken me much soul-searching and tears to get to this point.  But I believe everyone, for their own well being, needs to get there.

Have I been lucky?  Yes.

  • I have a husband, children, brothers and friends who let me talk out confusing feelings so that I can live my life as my mother loses hers
  • At the most crucial times, when she broke her pelvic bone and then hip, I was able to get to her, be with her at the hospital, encourage and explain things to her
  • I am blessed with siblings and friends who readily take over when I cannot
  • And finally I trust my mother’s hospice RN, the staff at the facility where she lives and the wonderful caregiver who began this journey with Mom years ago

Truly, it is always a balancing act:

you love this person who needs you vs you feel burdened and confined by the caregiving

you have done much to help this person vs you think you will never be able to do enough

you try to stifle caregiver guilt vs realizing the guilt is really about neglecting your son or your partner, even yourself!

Deal with your guilt.  Barry J. Jacobs, a psychologist, is the author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers.  He writes: “You love the person you’re caring for, but you hate the caregiving.  That’s normal.”  Jacobs writes about the positives of the team approach—family and friends pitch in to help.  “Caregivers feel better supported and more resilient; family relationships become stronger and more enduring even after their loved one has died.”

Think: Share the caregiving and then share the memories of the good things you did together.     

Finally empower your replacement caregivers with your blessing—truly they can handle things and they’ll have your phone number.  Then get away, whether that means via an airplane or sitting beside your own fireplace—take deep breaths and congratulate yourself.  You are doing good things for this person you love and, finally, for yourself.

How have you balanced your caregiving responsibilities during holiday seasons?


Handling Caregiver Guilt Is a Balancing Act

You need to empower and trust your substitute caregiver when you are not there.



6 thoughts on “Handling Caregiver Guilt Is a Balancing Act

    • Dear Gaylene,

      We are all in this together–that’s why I do Boomer Highway. Another friend, Teri, asked me specifically to write about this. So I did. If you have any other things that are bothering you, please share and I can research and we can work things out together–maybe!? Beth

  1. This is such an important topic and there’s a lot of wisdom in your approach. I especially like your focus on balance. Sometimes I think the balance is an actual scale within us; we can feel when it’s too heavy on one side or the other. The feeling of imbalance is telling us something and requires a response no matter what’s going on in our heads. Thanks again for writing about your experiences.

    • Thank you for zeroing in on something rather profound. When I started to feel overwhelmed and stuck, that must have been the feeling of imbalance taking over and warning me. It does require a response–something sensible and well planned out. And counting your blessings. Not being a hero, but saying YES I NEED HELP. Beth

  2. Beth…Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience. I wish this could reach everyone who is in a simular situation, it would give them comfort.

    • Joe, I so appreciate your reading and commenting. And often you have ideas that I can research and write about. I do think this post has valuable information. We cannot live our lives day to day overcome with guilt. Our health would suffer and the people we usually feel guilty about, our parents, would not want that. Beth

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