Care and resentment are sometimes strange bedfellows in elder-caregiving. No one knows that more than an adult child who is thrust into the caregiving role reluctantly, but they somehow do it out of commitment and responsibility.
That's what Doris of Tacoma, Washington, found out and is trying to reconcile. It's not easy, by any means, but it can be done. Doris wrote me asking for my advice; let's see what's in store.
My mother had a stroke several months ago. She moved in with me because she needed someone to take care of her. This is a horrible situation that I have always dreaded. I don't even like her. She has always been demanding and critical, but she is even worse now. My life has been turned upside down, and I resent her being here. I dread her getting up in the morning and wish I could just stay in bed. I don't know what to do.
I had to quit working to take care of her, and this is the first time I have ever been without insurance. It scares me. She does pay me enough, but I don't get out to visit anyone. I am constantly praying for God to give strength to her and me. People tell me how lucky I am to be taking care of my mother. I don't think so. I don't have any joy in life and don't have anything to look forward to. I feel guilty for feeling this way, but I can't do anything about it.
Doris H., Tacoma, Washington
Please don't run yourself down because you don't want to take care of your mother. Everyone has those feelings. They just don't admit them to other people. You are doing a terrific job, I'm sure.
The guilt you are feeling is so common it has a name -- caregiver guilt. Parents have a way of making you feel guilty because their lives are not what they want. The nicest, kindest parents can become demanding and controlling when they need their child to take care of them. It sometimes seems to go with the territory. I wrote a column on caregiver guilt. The title is "Guilt Is a Common Caregiver Affliction - Let's Avoid It"
Check it out.
I can see that you feel responsible for the care of your mother, but that does not mean you have to do it all yourself. Can your mother afford to pay someone to come in while you are out during the day? Then you could get a job again. Even if your mother can't pay for extra help, you getting a job might be the best thing you could do. You could use part of your salary to pay someone to come in while you are at work.
Talk to your mother and explain that you need the health insurance. Health insurance obviously is very important. If something would happen to you, you couldn't afford to go to the doctor. Also, if something would happen to you, you couldn't take care of your mother in your home. Your mother may not appreciate it, but once she realizes that anything she says or does won't make a difference, she will accept it. She may still complain, but that's all right.
Some of your feelings today are probably coming from the feelings you developed as a child rather than the caregiving situation now. Try to look at your mother as someone other than your mother. After all, she is actually becoming someone else. She is someone who needs to be taken care of instead of the mother who could always do what she wanted to do.
I didn't want to take care of my parents, either. I just happened to have a good relationship with my parents to begin with. Mom had Alzheimer's disease, so she was like a little child the whole time. Dad was different. He had always been in control of his life, so he became demanding. I finally came to the realization that I couldn't do everything he wanted and that he would have to accept that. It made a big difference.
Be sure to get enough exercise. I thought I was taking good care of myself, but I didn't exercise. I ate right, etc., but I did gain weight. After Dad died, I found that I had trouble walking into a grocery store if I wasn't parked in the handicapped parking spot. Please get enough exercise -- for your sake.
Overall, you are doing an excellent job. Remember, every family caregiver has the same feelings that you have. The difference is that many get along with their parent. Many don't, though. Unless someone has been at home taking care of their parent, they won't understand your situation. Don't expect them to. It can be dull, boring, and many other things for someone who doesn't understand.
I hope your life improves, but you are the one who will have to do something to make that happen. Good luck.