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Caregiver's lives can change dramatically during parent care

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

Whether caregiving has renewed your spirit and made you feel blessed to help your aging parents, or turned your life upside down and made you often feel like running away, most caregivers feel that their lives have dramatically changed since they became a caregiver. Figuring out these changes and how they affect us is healthy and often helps improve a carers mental health. Once people accept that their lives have changed, caregivers can work on making the change a healthy one for all concerned.

"I just want to run away from it all."

"I feel so honored to care for my beloved mother, my life-long best friend."

"I'm nearly devoured by guilt since elder care so often conflicts with what is best for my children and my marriage."

Changes. When it comes to life changes, taking on parent care is a major move. These changes are, for most people, a combination of positive and negative. However, much about these changes depends on the caregiver's attitude, plus the relationship he or she has had with their parents throughout life.

The complications of these feelings come from many directions. Most of us love our parents. We are saddened by the effects of aging on them. If dementia enters in, we are more than saddened - we are often devastated.

We want to help care for them. However, their care can affect our employment, our parenting, our marriages and all other areas of our lives. Often we go into caregiving blinded by love and compassion for our sick elders and the need we feel to care for them. We generally don't stop and think that this could go on for years. No, we are living in the moment, and that is likely a good thing. If we knew what the future held, we may be too emotionally frozen to do what we need to do. So, we leap in.

That's okay for a starter. But then, we really should try to do some planning, even if that means we have to see a counselor to sort out the issues. Because - and I speak from experience - when caregiving goes on for months and then years, it affects every element of your life. I'm not saying that is negative or positive. It just is.

The Honor of Giving Back

Your parents raised you. They may not have been perfect, as few are, but they loved you and cared for you. Now, they need help. You are the only one of their children who lives near them, so you leap in to fill the gaps in their lives. They need some medication reminders. They need someone to go to the doctor with them. You can do that.

  • However, elder care, by nature, grows more and more demanding as our elders decline. We need to know when we've reached our limit for personal, hands-on caregiving. Is it when we have to leave our jobs or go to part time and aren't sure how to survive financially?
  • Is it when we find that we can't take part in our children's activities because we are so busy with our elders?
  • Is it when our spouse gets grumpy and feels neglected because we are always running off to help our parents and don't have time to, well, be a spouse?

Short term, most families can survive this. Long term? Maybe not. The job may have to go. If you can afford it, great. If you will lose your home, not so great. You may have to make arrangements for some in-home care or other backup so you can attend to your children's needs and/or go out with your husband on occasion.

Don't Let Guilt Stop You

If you need to get help with your elders in order to keep balance in your life, do so. In-home care, adult day care or even a faith community volunteer may be the answer. If you don't find some way to balance your life, you may end up in the group whose members tell me they "just want to run away."

Most caregivers - of elders, young folks or spouses - feel that way from time to time. The responsibility and sheer exhaustion contributes to this feeling. However, if this feeling lasts, it's time to consider serious moves.

  • Seek counseling to sort out issues and cope with guilt
  • Look for in-home help, adult day care, assisted living or a nursing home for your elders if you feel your family is suffering so much for your lack of attention that your children's welfare or your marriage is at risk. Your aging parents would not want to be the reason for a marriage breakup.
  • Ask a third party for an opinion. Even if you don't think you need counseling to figure out the path toward effective elder caregiving, parenting, and a balanced marriage, you may want to talk with a close friend to get an outside view. That doesn't mean you have to accept an outside view, but a trusted friend may be able to open your eyes in a gentle fashion.

Giving care to our parents as they age can, indeed, be an honor. However, it can also be a danger to the rest of your life if you can't find a balance. Part of that balance is finding time for self-care as well as caring for the rest of your family. You may feel like running away from your life from time to time, and still remain healthy, balanced and focused in the right direction. But if your normal mindset is that you want out of your own life, please look for ways to change the dynamic. You have rights, even as a caregiver.