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It Isn’t Okay to Feel So Guilty When You’re Doing Your Best

caregiver support

I loved my paternal grandmother, but I didn’t like her much. That’s the truth, and now that I’ve written it I’m certain that my mother will gasp when she sees these words.  Not because she felt all that differently than I did, but because it isn’t nice to say.

Sorry, Mom.  Sometimes Grandma wasn’t nice.

She’d grown up with a sense of entitlement that was full-blown by the time she’d reached her 80’s and it wasn’t pretty.  When she’d stay with us at Christmas she insisted on having a bell at her bedside so she could summon help.  On one such occasion I remember Mom running toward the bedroom some 20 feet away upon hearing the ringing.  The problem? Grandma’s clock was facing the wrong way and she couldn’t tell the time.

Oh the horror…

And while Grandma did have her good points (she was instrumental in getting my dad a job that he loved until he died and she managed to marry an amazing man who was a Grandpa to me in ever sense of the word), instances involving the bedside bell and others tainted my memories of her in the later years.

Growing up it seemed that Grandma reserved Sundays for guilt trips.

Mom would arrive at Grandma’s apartment early and get to work doing laundry, shopping for groceries, making meals and cleaning so that the money for the home attendant would stretch as far as possible.  Also, at Grandma’s request, Mom made sure that the top drawer of the coffee table was sufficiently stocked with Salems and that a lighter in working order — much like the bell — was close at hand.

And did I mention liquor?  Oh yeah. There was that too.

As the day would wind to an end my mother would pass across the kitchen threshold one last time to be sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind.  And just then, like clockwork, a voice from the living room would cry out…

“Please pour me another glass of wine if I’m going to be alone.”

And there it was. My grandmother’s attempt to guilt my mom for leaving her — perhaps even an effort to get her to stay the night.

In her book Caregiving: Helping an Aging Loved One, Jo Horne acknowledges the guilt that family caregivers often experience in the midst of caregiving.

Right #5 reads: I have a right to reject any attempts by my relative (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt, and or depression.

I’m happy to report that my Mom did reject my grandmother’s attempts to make her feel guilty. Mom would pour the glass of wine, tell my grandmother she’d call her later, and close the door behind her.  She knew she was doing her best and there was nothing more to give.


{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Jeanne August 12, 2012, 11:06 AM

    I found so much familiar about this article. My husbands mother was as perfect an ageing parent as could be. She handed over the keys and checkbook to us and never looked back. She told us to make the desisions for her and we did and she was content. My parents? Oh my goodness. Mom has been opressed all of her married life so now her growing dimentia is releasing a good deal of rage. My sister and I live 800 miles apart with the parents in the middle. They refuse to choose a daughter to be near for their care. It has been a great concern for Sis and I to manage them long distance. Our dad cries in his hands that there is no one for them to call when a crisis happens to them, which happens at a fairly regular interval any more. Sis and I have to scramble to get to their town to care for them when each crisis happens.. We have very loving and caring parents but guilt is a constant companion for both of us.

  • Maria November 9, 2011, 8:54 PM

    Hi Susan,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I look forward to reading your two part post!


  • Susan November 6, 2011, 1:11 AM

    Maria, I like the way you presented this ever-present dilemma from a personal perspective. I blogged about difficult parents with some specific, helpful concepts and strategies (gained from my counseling experiences/background), that I’m happy to share. (Not surprisingly we have the same goals.). http://helpparentsagewell.com/2011/03/29/aging-parents-ornery-difficult-unappreciative-part-2/. There’s a part 1 also. Thankfully I didn’t experience this behavior first-hand w/ my parents, but Jean, who I know through one of my blog’s Sr. Advisors, did—big-time–and that inspired my 2 posts.

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