5 Ways for Caregivers to Avoid Guilt

by: Nicole Hanna, Executive Director, Vineyard HendersonTips image

Bio: With over 20 years of leadership experience with an expansive skill set in dementia education, training and support, long-term care, nursing, senior fitness and rehabilitation, Nicole brings expertise in operational efficiencies and leadership development, while prioritizing the quality care and happiness of her community.

With more Americans living well beyond their 70s, more adult children are left in a position where they must be caregivers for their aging parents. Pressure comes from all sides, including the judging eyes of others in our society determining that something is “right” or “wrong,” family relationships and dynamics, and finances.

Caregiving can take a big toll on families. Some families can mend their differences and come together to focus on the best interests of the parent or parents. Others simply look for the most cost-effective solution and write a check, to be spared dealing with the day-to-day details. The bottom line is that almost all caregivers experience guilt over what they could be doing or what they feel they should be doing.

The importance of boundaries

Setting boundaries in these familial relationships are vital to protecting your health. However, boundaries are often crossed or neglected, especially in the rushed and seemingly endless hours of caregiving.

Caregiving is more effective for all parties involved when limitations are set. Knowing that you have a set boundary will allow you as a caregiver to be more open-hearted and relaxed when taking care of your loved one. For example, knowing that you have a break coming up may be exactly what will give you strength to push through two hours of a challenging day.

Having the opportunity to serve in the healthcare and hospitality industry for a few decades leading up to my current role at Vineyard Henderson has allowed me to witness firsthand the impact that caregiving can have with my team, my families, and my residents. Getting to sit with so many to discuss frustrations, fears, confusion, anger, sadness, and so many emotions that join this ride through life, it is often so important to remember the basics and reevaluate our actions to have greater benefit for us as caregivers and for others that we provide care to.

There are five essential ways that I’ve found for caregivers to reduce or avoid guilt.

  1. Learn to say no

People are going to make unreasonable demands – that’s what people do. But here’s the thing: Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

  1. You are not responsible for how others feel

It’s not your job to make everyone else comfortable all the time. Your loved one’s annoyance isn’t an indication of your incompetence; it’s a sign of their discomfort.

  1. Expect a little guilt

Guilt won’t kill you. Guilt is normal. Unless you’re an enlightened being, you’ll feel guilty as a caregiver. But also know this: guilt is the ego’s sneakiest disguise. So, acknowledge guilt when you feel it, let it roll over you and then move on. Because if guilt is motivating you to say yes when you want or need to say no, then it’s limiting your potential to have the impact you were born to have.

  1. Manage your boundaries

Set boundaries with yourself. Treat your superego – the one who wants everything to be perfect — like the person who just asked you to volunteer for a big job at your kids’ school. You have to respond to this voice in your head just like you would an actual person who is making suggestions that require a firm “no.”

  1. You are enough

Your being is more important than your doing.  Whatever you’re doing to please other people is only temporary relief for that deep feeling of uneasiness about yourself that almost everybody has to some extent. Nothing you do – whether good, bad, or great, can change the fundamental awesomeness of who you are. You are enough without DOING anything.

Caregiving is a very important task, and regardless of how big your role in the caregiving may be, it puts a lot of stress on everyone involved. Take heart that you are not alone.