Dear Donna,

I am an only child and over the past few years my Mom has needed more and more help just to get through a day. Recently, we moved her into a skilled care facility after several falls and hospital stays. I am retired and my husband and I bought an RV so we could travel and enjoy this part of our lives.  And now, I am unable to travel at all because taking care of Mom has become a full time job. I love my Mom and want to be there for her and yet I feel resentful. I don’t really have anyone who understands to talk to about this. My husband is upset with me for choosing my Mom over him. And I feel guilty for feeling resentful! On top of that, I feel overwhelmed and undervalued. What am I doing wrong that I have all of these bad feelings?

Dear Overwhelmed Daughter,

Please let me assure you that the feelings you describe seem normal based upon the set of circumstances you find yourself in.  It sounds like you are trying to be the best daughter-caregiver to your Mom and that is an overwhelming job! On top of that, you are in the golden retirement years of your own life with a husband who is also counting on you to be there for him and follow through with the plans that you both made to travel and enjoy retirement together.  The role of caregiver often sneaks up on us, we may begin by doing simple things to help our Mom, perfectly normal tasks for a daughter to do. Then we wake up one day and we have assumed complete responsibility for another person, the role of daughter has morphed into the role of caregiver. You know how to be a good daughter to your Mom, you don’t need help with that role.  Yet you find yourself juggling a new role, that of caregiver to your Mom.

Dr. Rhonda Montgomery, in her 30 years of researching family caregiving, observed that what many had called a role reversal is actually a role identity crisis.  She created a Caregiver Identity Theory as a framework to guide families. The starting point is realizing that you do have the full time responsibility as a caregiver to your Mom.  You may want to say that out loud, “I am a family caregiver”.

As a caregiver, your function and goal is not necessarily to take on the 24/7 care of your Mom by yourself.  It is, however, to take on the responsibility of creating a plan of care that meets your Mom’s needs and keeps her safe. It sounds like you are doing that, your Mom is living in a safe environment where there is a staff that is meeting her physical needs.  Give yourself credit for achieving that goal and putting a good plan in place! Ask yourself, what does Mom need from me now that her physical needs are being met? Perhaps she needs you to be the supportive daughter again, to visit her and enjoy some quality time together?  

Your own feelings are telling you that you are not paying attention to something important.  That is what emotions do, it is the body’s way of communicating with us, especially if we are out of balance or not caring for ourselves.  When we look at them from that perspective, we can then ask, what is the message of this feeling? Let’s unpack what the messages of your feelings may be telling you.  

Resentment can be a form of anger, it can bring us a message that we have emotional and physical needs that we have been ignoring. From what you describe, taking care of your Mom has become your main priority, perhaps over caring for yourself and your marriage relationship.  Is resentment signaling that your own health and other relationships are at risk?

Both resentment and guilt are common feelings among family caregivers.  Guilt is a mixed emotion, for example, it may contain both elements of anger and sadness. Anger tells us there is an obstacle in our way, and sadness says we have lost something valuable to us and don’t know how or if we can ever get it back.  Guilt is common when we are in a situation that we have no direct control over yet we feel the responsibility to control. It can tell us we are being too hard on ourselves as if we are the judge and jury presiding over ourselves, guilty on all counts!  Guilt is also a reminder to let go of the goal of perfection. It reality, there is no perfect plan, no perfect caregiver, no perfect set of circumstances in life. Often it is in life’s imperfections that the blessings arise.

To recap, give yourself credit for what you have done for your Mom already!  Remember as caregiver, your function is to create a plan whereby your Mom’s needs are met. And ask yourself, what should I adjust based on the messages my own body is giving me?

You asked for my advice, here are some specifics. Get into a caregiver support group where you can freely share your experiences as a caregiver and your feelings with others who do understand!   Being a part of a caregiver support group can help you expand your own vision, find new possibilities, and hear how others in similar circumstances worked on balancing their life during caregiving. Another bit of advice, sometimes we have to question something we say or something we believe to be truth and ask ourselves if there is another way to see it.  For example, you say you can’t travel at all with your husband? If Mom’s physical needs are being met, perhaps you and your husband could take that RV to a nearby place for a few days of R&R? If you are not comfortable leaving her, perhaps you can hire a professional caregiving agency to be there for the time when you are away? Or if finances are an obstacle, maybe a friend can stop by to check on your Mom while you are enjoying your retirement with your husband for a short trip.  Just because you care for someone else does not mean you, your own needs, and other meaningful relationships in your life disappear. I wonder if that is the simple message of what your feelings are trying to convey.


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