We’re supposed to want to take care of our parents or aging relatives. And, if we don’t want to, we rarely admit it.
But what if they treated you terribly (i.e. critical, controlling, demanding) and now you are expected to treat them well? Perhaps you’re no longer close or there’s an unresolved conflict (your father, let’s say, cheated on your mother and doted on his new wife and kids rather than you or there was blatant sibling favoritism.)
You’ve kept your distance, perhaps, but age-related declines are forcing you to become more involved. Dealing with them now can reignite old hurts and resentments. Still, you may feel responsible and realize they’re not the same person today. Or, you may decide you don’t want to participate in caregiving.
Alexis Abramson, a gerontologist and author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook advises “not feeling guilty because you don’t have affectionate feelings toward your loved one—acknowledge them and move on. Caring for a parent doesn’t mean you have to coddle them … you just have to behave responsibly.”
Perhaps her best advice: “No matter what: Never lose sight of the fact that through your actions, you’re setting an example for your children.”
Lisa Campbell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in adults age 50+ at the Willow Wellness Center in Park Ridge, Ill., believes identifying why you’re caregiving and putting that into simple terms can help: “I’m caring for them because this is important to me, or this is the right thing to do, or what love means, what a daughter does, or what my faith calls me to do.”
Campbell also sees adult children who choose not to play the nurturer/caregiving role or get involved only minimally. “There are times when it just isn’t healthy or safe for people to care directly for relatives in need, and people should have the right to say ‘no,’” says Campbell. In these cases, you need to figure out a different support system.
Explore community resources at senior centers, agencies for aging, park districts, churches, neighborhood centers as well as consider professional help and/or shifting the task to a less conflicted family member or friend.
Connect with others in a support group, reach out informally, read books. “The people I see who do well go to caregiving support groups,” Campbell says.
Here are more ideas for those not brimming with love:
- Can you set clear boundaries, such as limiting the hours you’re available for calls or establishing grounds for cutting off contact (“If you swear at me, I’m hanging up”)?
- What can you do so that you feel good about how you’re handling the situation, have no regrets, and are still self-protective?
Are you taking care of someone you’d—how to say it?—rather not? What gets you through?