Let’s travel back in time; to when you were a baby, and your parents did everything for you. They fed you, changed your diapers and entertained you late in the night when you couldn’t sleep. Unfortunately, the human brain is primed to remember childhood events past three or four years. So, you probably have no memory of your parent changing your diaper, but they did.

Our parents have done so much for us, and we would travel miles to see them happy, healthy and independent. We want to be there for them just like they were there for us. So, what happens if you cannot be physically present for your parents? Does that break you?

When you can’t love like you think you should

Guilt, helplessness and the pain of adjusting to the fact that you are not in a position to care for your senior parents like you wanted to might make you feel like there is an enormous burden to bear. While there is no need to feel guilty, it is a reality that many people go through. Coming to terms with the decision that your parent requires more specialized care than you can offer is not easy.

Such a decision often comes with a heavy toll and feelings like

  • I should have more to offer
  • I am not doing things right
  • I am not doing enough

How to overcome the guilt of not taking care of an elderly parent

Behavior experts refer to it as disproportionate guilt. It is when you feel responsible for the things you cannot control, like people’s lives. When you have excessive guilt, you tend to become resentful and bitter. If you have been weighed down by the guilt of not taking care of an elderly parent, here’s how to overcome it.

1. Become aware of guilt

Unfortunately, guilt has a way of creeping into our lives and making us uncomfortable even before we notice it. You cannot cope with something you have no idea exists. You can suddenly become overwhelmed by everything that is going on.

For instance, if you helped your loved one to settle in an assisted living facility, you are bound to experience a moment of relief and comfort. After a while, you might start missing your parent and regretting your decision. Within no time, you will have drowned in a sea of regret.

Identify when guilt strikes and find actionable steps of handling it.

2. Identify the positives

When you start feeling inadequate and overwhelmed, remember the positive things that you have done for your loved one. Make a list of the things you do for your parent including emotional, financial and physical support.

Appreciate that you are human and cannot do everything right. Since you are doing everything within your power to love your parent, let go of what you cannot accomplish. Never beat yourself up for things beyond your control.

3. Stop “shoulding” yourself

How can you end the guilt cycle? Start by eliminating one word from the vocabulary: should. 

How many “should” are in your head? Take a moment to breathe and realize that the only opinion that matters is what you have about yourself. Every circumstance is different, and with time and resource constraints, there is only so much you can do. Turn a deaf ear to the judging of other people. Do not overstretch your limits to accommodate what the society expects of you.

Guilt may have made you think otherwise, but your parent wants you to be happy. They don’t mind you sacrificing your time together to work on your other life’s aspects such as family and career. They understand that you have a life to create.

4. Talk it out with a friend

A situation gets worse the more you replay it in your mind. Do not fall into the trap of self-condemnation. Instead, get a different perspective by talking it over with someone you trust. Secrecy intensifies guilt. If you feel empty by not living with your parents, do not cringe to the idea. Talking about your feelings with a friend will help you overcome negative emotions.

5. Focus on now

Stop thinking about the ways you could be a better caregiver. That doesn’t matter at the moment because it is not possible. Can you get your parent the help he or she needs? If yes, don’t hesitate to get alternative caregiver options.  Do you have a job? Give it your best. What about your family? Is your child’s game forthcoming? Make sure you attend the game.

 Focusing on what should have been will only make you more anxious than you already are. You can control how you act and feel in the moment. There is no need to add despair to your life.

6. Remember that you shouldn’t punish yourself

Regardless of how bad you feel for not being present all the time, you should not discipline yourself. Guilt has a way of making you feel undeserving of happiness and success, which usually leads to behavior of mediocrity and self-sabotage. Do not deny yourself the opportunity to experience happiness just because you want to penalize yourself.

7. Be mindful

Practicing mindfulness helps cope with caregiver guilt in two ways. One way is that it helps you to live in the moment. This means that you do not concentrate on the regrets and things that happened in the past. Your focus is on what is happening now.

Secondly, as you practice mindfulness, you will ask yourself questions and observe your responses and how they help bring awareness to your guilt feelings. For instance, you can ask yourself, “What can I do to prove to myself that I am worthy of happiness?” Becoming aware of your feelings is the first step to being mindful and effective.

8. Seek professional help

If you feel like the guilt is getting out of hand, you should consider talking to an expert. Psychotherapy is quite useful for caregivers who are dealing with guilt. The professional will take you through exercises that help you to process negative emotions. Sometimes taking medication is necessary and helpful in regaining confidence and the happiness you deserve.

Caring for an elderly parent from a distance

A study that was conducted in 2009 by the National Alliance of Caregivers found that 15 percent of senior citizens’ caregivers lived more than an hour away from their loved ones. The number was projected to increase over the years, and it certainly has.

Choosing the right method of care for an aging parent is governed by family dynamics, career and personal life. If you cannot be there all the time, here is how to ensure that your parents are comfortable.

1. Find the right caregiver

Every family’s situation is different, and your parent will benefit from the care of having an in-home caregiver in your absence. Ensure you are in constant contact with your loved one to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Take some time to research before hiring a caregiver. The ideal professionals should have extensive experience and training. They should be someone your parent enjoys spending time with.

2. Invest in assistive technology devices

There are tools that are specifically designed with seniors in mind. Medication reminders, voice technologies and virtual assistants, medical devices kits are just few examples of smart devices that can help older adults live at home safely for longer and perform everyday tasks. For instance, medical alert system will ensure they receive quick help when they need it the most. The system is usually connected to a base station that makes an emergency call to a call center when your loved one presses the button. The call center operator sends emergency personnel, alerts a neighbor or contacts a family member. You can also get one for yourself!

3. Communicate openly and often

The best way to ensure that your parents are comfortable is to contact them regularly. Make an effort to understand everything they are going through. Run any decision with them before concluding. Before settling for any care alternatives, ensure that your parent is comfortable with the choice.

“Guilt may make you think that you have more power than you do”

Replace guilt with something constructive

To weaken and extract power from guilt, caregivers ought to fill the space with something that will reduce the burnout and exhaustion. Start small. Think about the ways you can take a break from everything. Over time you will find ideal ways to unwind and celebrate life. All it takes is being intentional and a little planning too.