By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., Executive Director, Colony Retirement Homes
“Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” Anne Wilson Schaef
Elder care is not always easy or glamorous. Nonetheless, I always wanted to be the one to take care of my parents when they aged. I wanted to be able to offer them the care that I had given to strangers for years. Caring for them was an easy commitment to make because we had a great relationship. Our mutual respect made communication easier.
A good friend, Louise, recently started caring for her parents. Her biggest challenge, however, was not navigating the eldercare field, it was dealing with parents in need while simultaneously dealing with 50 years of a rocky relationship.
Caregiving is a hard road under good circumstances. Some caregivers have an even more treacherous path– they may also be weaving through a minefield of emotional abuse, mental illness, or addiction issues. These relationships are frustrating, overwhelming and disheartening at best.
Here are the lessons Louise and I learned together while trying to cobble together care for her parents.
- Acknowledge the struggle. If your elder was manipulative, abusive, addicted or mentally ill, it has likely shaped who you are. Understand that you will have a hard time not getting sucked back into the drama they create. Know that you are a worthy and good human being, even if you cannot live up to their expectations. Maybe their expectations are the problem. Seek help from a therapist to affirm your worth. You will need someone solely on your side. Journal your experiences and your feelings to help give them a name and help you understand later what you are now going through.
- Know the difference between urgent and an emergency. Reality check what you are reacting to. Are you finding ways to seek approval? Do you need to feel needed? If you are taking action of any sort, ask yourself who needs this done today – you or your elder? And is that ok with you?
- Decide what you can and cannot do. If you cannot give them money or give up your exercise class, let your elder know that you are willing to help, but some items are nonnegotiable. They may ask. Be prepared to say no.
- Affirmatively state your role and your reasons. “Mom, my job is to bring you an occasional meal. I can’t bring you dinner every night, that is why you live here. They will have dinner for you.”
- Enforce your boundaries. This is the hardest step if you have not done your homework on the first four steps. Here are some examples of boundaries that make sense from a caregiver’s point of view that are all valid and reasonable in different situations.
- “Mom, I know you used to talk to me that way, but that won’t fly anymore. If you scream at me or say mean things to me, I will leave.”
- “Dad, not being able to get the game on the TV is not something I can help you with while I am at work. I will be by tomorrow and I will fix the TV then.”
- “Please stop trying to guilt me into coming by more often. That just makes me NOT want to visit you.”
- “Mom, my back won’t let me give you a shower. I can’t get hurt because then we’d both need someone to help us. I won’t take that chance.”
Healing from the past is not linear. You may need to read this list several times. That is ok. The most important step is to remember to validate yourself because nobody else may be able to do so. And remember to grieve. Grieve for the mother you never had. Grieve for the father you always wanted. Grieve for the relationship that will never be the same.
Nobody said caregiving is easy. Sometimes, it is worth it, even if it is not perfect.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be
reached at 508-755-0444 or firstname.lastname@example.org and