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Why am I the only one caring for Dad?

By Patty Ayers

One common theme that I hear from caregivers of those in hospice is the myriad of emotions they feel: frustration, disappointment, resentment and guilt at being the only child caring for their elderly or sick parent or sometimes parents.

The feelings of frustration they say come from spreading themselves too thin by trying to care for their parent, work, and be present for their own family’s needs.  The feelings of disappointment and resentment come from the fact that when their mom or dad first became sick, their sibling or siblings agreed to help, but months later the caregiver is left with an occasional phone call offering advice and sometimes criticism, and virtually no support. And the guilt some say comes from feeling resentment and anger towards their siblings for being selfish – “isn’t caring for your parent the right thing to do, no matter what?”

Sometimes, they even feel guilty about mourning the life they had prior to caring for their mom or dad.

What are some of the ways you can help protect yourself from letting these feelings overwhelm you or affect your relationship with your siblings?  Try some of the following:

  • Have open and honest communication with your sibling(s) without being accusatory.  Use statements that begin with “I feel” instead of “you” statements, this way you get your feelings out without putting them on the defensive.
  • Suggest specific ways they can help you more, like providing them with a schedule of hours during the week that you will be unavailable to help mom or dad.  If your sibling(s) live far away then talk about how you may need to hire someone during those hours to be with your parent(s).  If you don’t have the finances to hire someone, than ask your sibling to help you find local church or agencies for the elderly in your area that may have volunteers.
  • Let your siblings know you could use someone to talk to. Sometimes all you may need is more support from your sibling(s) or extended family members. Weekly phone calls to see how your parent(s) is doing or how you are holding up can help.  If you don’t have that type of relationship with your sibling(s) then try to find a local caregiver support group for children caring for their elderly parent(s).  Joining this type of group will not only give you the opportunity to express your feelings to people who are in the same boat, but it may also provide you with valuable local resources such as agencies for the elderly, volunteer groups, and financial and medical resources.
  • Be specific when communicating with your sibling(s) about everything you do for your parent(s).  Sometimes they don’t know the full-extent of what it is like to care for someone who is dependent on others for most or all of their needs, including personal care.
  • Try not to buy into constant criticism from those family members that offer no support or help.  Remember, it’s easy for others to judge people from afar without knowing what it is like to be in your shoes.  You may want to remind them in a kind way that until they can offer you some helpful suggestions, you will have to make do with the resources you already have.

Remember that you are human and may sometimes feel resentment towards everyone, including your parent(s).  Most of the time it’s the situation that you may feel resentment towards and it may not be a specific person.  Take time for yourself to recharge your batteries if you can, even if it’s only a half hour a day at the gym or reading a book or taking a walk.

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