It's still hard for me to watch as one adult child bears all the caregiving responsibility for Mom or Dad. But it happens. And it happens every day, many times a day, with elder-caregiving in America.
What can be done to deal with this problem? Making their siblings aware of the strain on the one caregiving child may wake up some of them, but not others. The caregiver bearing the burden needs to be emphatic and firm about expectations of their brothers and sisters. If they don't know what's needed, they can't help. If they know and can't help, then they need to join their brother/sister in finding the help that is needed. Too often the caregiving adult child lets their own health deteriorate and they need to stop doing that.
Bonnie in Seattle has been dealing with just this type of problem, as you'll read below. In her case, firmness is the answer.
I take care of my Mom in my home. She has cancer and has had a stroke. My husband and I have to pay for some of her medications as well as her food. My husband and I are starting to have problems, but I think my mother is causing some of them. My children are in high school, and they don't want to bring their friends home because of the way my mother acts. I don't blame them. She tells them they are brats and to get out of her house. She also makes me feel guilty because I can't do everything exactly when she wants it done. I can't even do some of the things she demands that I do.
I have three sisters and two brothers, but they aren't helping at all. I am so upset with them. Mom tries to turn them against me all the time and all the time they seem to fight about Mom’s care.
To tell you the truth, I have had it. I get upset with everyone when I shouldn't, and I can't do everything that needs done. I feel so guilty because I can't. I have a full-time job and I am a nervous wreck. I am so tired I can’t even think straight. What can I do?
Bonnie G., Seattle, Washington
Why don’t you call your sisters and brothers and tell them you can’t take care of your mother any longer? Tell them they are going to have to help--- somehow. Period. They can't continue to sit on the sidelines. They can move her into their home. If they don’t want to do that, tell them they need to help pay for her care somewhere other than your home. Hopefully, you and your sisters and brothers will be able to come up with a plan before the next step.
Tell your mother that you can't do everything for her all the time; it's just not possible. Explain that your sisters and brothers are going to have to help and that you have already talked to them. My hope is that you then would be able to explain what you all have planned. Also ,tell your mother that you want to take care of her, but right now you can’t. Be sure to tell her that you love her.
Everyone will probably get a little upset, but that is immaterial. You have to think of your health and life right now. You need to take a break from caregiving. Let them take care of your mother completely for 3-4 weeks -- even longer or permanently, if that is possible.
When parents need care, quite often the adult children have struggles and start fighting. Your sisters and brothers might be having a hard time adjusting to the fact that their mother is coming close to the end of her life.
It seems that most parents go through a phase where they will do anything to control their adult child. They make their child feel guilty in any way that they can. Don't let her do that to you any longer.
There is something called caregiver guilt. As an adult child, we still want to please our parents. We feel guilty because we can't solve the problems of our parents. We feel guilty because we don't want to take care of them. It just goes on and on. Then, we also feel guilty because we feel the way we do. Try to get over it.
You should not feel guilty: it seems you have done everything you can to help your mother. She must accept the fact that she can't control her cancer and that she might have another stroke. She can't control her life as she did when she was 20. She is going through various feelings about the end of her life approaching, and she might even take her frustration out on you. You are doing a good job and you are doing everything you can to take care of her. Now, it is time for you to get "respite" from her care. It's time for you to take a break. If your sisters and brothers don't want to help take care of their own mother, or if they can't, they might be able to pay for someone to do it. You have done enough. Insist that they help, and insist that you get a break. You and your family need it.
Go to a doctor and get a thorough physical. You might also want to consider a counselor to help you get over your feelings of guilt. You don't need to feel guilty, but until you work through it yourself my words won't do a lot to help you. Your husband might want to talk to the counselor to help him understand what you have been going through. That might help your marriage and eventually your kids.
Please get the help you need. I don’t want you to become ill or accidentally hurt yourself. You wouldn’t be able to help anyone if you did that.
Remember, it’s time for you to take a break. When you do, try to start enjoying the little things in life. The blue sky. Fresh air. Birds. Your son or daughter’s smile. Your husband being home. There is so much to enjoy ,and you need to start looking for it.