Guilt is a problem in any caregiving role.
Are you a parent? I’ll bet you feel guilty because of a million things you didn’t do right, because of the times you didn’t give your full attention or weren’t able to be there, because of what you weren’t able to provide. Are you a caregiver? I’ll bet you feel guilty because of the tasks you weren’t able to accomplish, because of the patience you weren’t able to show in any given moment, because of any negative feelings you had toward your loved one, because you felt sorry for yourself.
It is unfortunate that guilt is such a strong part of our makeup.
Why can’t pride, or self-love be the predominant emotion?
For some reason the negative feeling overshadows the good. I don’t know if that is our upbringing or just human nature. Sometimes guilt is a perfectly reasonable response. If we experience it because we have done something truly wrong, and we pivot from guilt to determination to correct the matter, then the guilt was useful. But what I am talking about now is the kind of guilt that results from us feeling less than perfect, which is not a productive emotion.
What would most children be without their parents? Most parents do so much more right than they do wrong. They make mistakes of course, but the morals they teach, the homes they provide, and the love they demonstrate make for a good life for most children. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. When you look objectively at your child, especially as they age, you can see if you have, overall, done a good job of parenting.
All the little mistakes on your part don’t matter.
It’s the bigger parenting picture that matters.
But with caregiving, the same yardstick to measure your impact does not exist. Most likely the person receiving care will continue to decline and may ultimately die. You won’t be able to necessarily see the full effects of your care on the person you cared for. You might not see if all the love you gave affected who they were. As they decline, they might be so unhappy or memory challenged that they cannot reflect back to you how much help you have been. And that leaves it in your lap to try to figure out how well you’re doing. But look for the signs that you have done well.
Is the person clean, fed, properly medicated?
Do they receive regular medical care?
Do these things happen because of you?
Then you are doing a great job!
Do you sing to the person you are caring for?
Try to keep him engaged in life?
Take her on outings just for fun?
Engage in hobbies with him or watch a movie with her?
Then you are doing a stellar job! If you feel angry, frustrated, hopeless, or impatient, you are normal. You don’t need to feel guilty, though my telling you not to won’t eliminate your feelings. That is a matter for you to coach yourself on.
As a caregiver and mother of four, I definitely know how this feels.
Recently, I had a Saturday where I felt like I had not accomplished anything of significance and also felt like I hadn’t spent quality time with anyone I love either. I felt like I had wasted a day and it was depressing me. When I confided in my boyfriend, he said, “That’s ridiculous. You made a nice breakfast for your little boy and his friend. You went out to buy him a special gift to take to his first big birthday party. You took the boys to meet their dad. Then you came to my show and supported me. You did a lot.” When I thought about it like that, I saw that I had done more than I realized and had no reason to feel bad. So here is my suggestion to you when you are feeling guilty. Make a list of all the jobs you do for the person you take care of. Write down or make a mental list of every single thing you do on one of your bad days. Then look at the list and give yourself a break! Focus on all the good you do.
When you are a caregiver you do so much for someone. Imagine what their life would be like without you. Where would they have to live? Who would they have to hire to take your place? You do a lot. You make a difference. Admit it to yourself and make it your mantra: “I do a lot. I make a difference.” And that, my fellow Stars, is huge, because it means you are a blessing to someone.