Last Updated: December 5, 2017
Caregiving can be complicated for many reasons, but how do you cope when it’s a family member that you want nothing to do with?
Read these personal stories and tips about caring for a family member you dislike.
I have a friend who, growing up, had an overbearing and ultra-critical mother. She was always comparing her daughter’s inadequacies to her playmate’s strengths — in other words, “Molly is so good at the art and violin, but what are you good at?” The long pause, followed by silence, meant “absolutely nothing.”
It did damage. Nurturing and unconditional love were not part of her mother’s parenting style. Her judgmental attitude, and at times, mean comments, made it a challenge years later when, in her 80s and 90s, she needed her kids to nurture her.
My friend was devoted anyway. She told me she decided to do everything she could for her mother, so that after she passed away, there would be no guilt. She was not just doing it for her mother, but for herself. A different person would have walked away. Many adult children whose parents weren’t stellar role models or worse, wrestle with how much caregiving they want to do — if any. Some decide they just can’t pretend to care or that it would be too painful. They feel they are staying away to protect themselves.
Yet, non-caregivers-by-choice may be considered self-absorbed and uncaring if they don’t wade in. Of course, some children are truly ungrateful or feel they don’t have the time to do any caregiving. Mom is just not their problem. This, however, is not the norm.
“In my experience, even if the kids resent the parents, and we see an awful lot of that, they still take care of them or hire someone to do it,” says Dr. Suzanne Salamon, a geriatrician, associate chief of clinical geriatrics at Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center and instructor at Harvard Medical School.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel anger and guilt. Even in the best of relationships, where there is deep devotion and love, the exhaustion, competing demands, stress and, how do I say it without sounding selfish, “inconvenience,” can elicit feelings you may not be proud of. Those feelings are natural.
“That’s because family relationships are so complicated. There might have been abuse or conflict that was never resolved, and they’re called in to take care of someone at a late point. I’ve seen some people who handle it by saying, ‘this is my parent and I feel responsible but this person hurt me. Maybe he’s not the same person now, but he still hurt me.'”
In other words, they acknowledge their feelings but decide to take care of them.
If that sounds like the situation you are in, consider these strategies:
Give yourself permission to feel the way you do. Vent to a close friend, an online support group or a therapist. Isolation is emotionally and physically unhealthy for a caregiver. Can a social worker help you come to terms with your anger and guilt?
If you don’t want to be, figure out why you’re caregiving, says Campbell. Is it because you think it’s the right thing to do or what family does? You don’t want to feel guilty after it’s over and regret your actions. Is there no one else to take your place? Do you want to be there even when they weren’t there for you just because, or to be a role model to your own children? Identifying why you are caregiving can make it easier.
Why should you feel devoted if you weren’t treated well or never had a relationship with the person who suddenly requires your care? Many of the nicest people have the same deep, dark thoughts!
A play called “True,” written by Rosa Laborde, resonates well with someone in this situation. The play is about an estranged, unbalanced father who returns to his three daughters when he develops Alzheimer’s. Does he really want to kiss and make up because he’s contrite or is it to get the help he now needs? Whatever the reason, it is resonating with audiences.
Are there times of the day you aren’t available, except in an emergency, for calls, errands or visits? If you find the parent berating you (unless it’s a case of dementia), specify that you will hang up or leave the house.
Decide what you can and can’t do and delegate. Can other adult siblings or your children help out? What community resources are in the area? What have other family caregivers done to mitigate the stress?
Have you felt this way? What did you do during this time? Share your tips with other less than enthusiastic caregivers in the comments below.