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The Replacements: How Not to Feel (Too) Guilty When Someone Else is Caring for Your Loved One


By Leslie Eckford RN, LCSW

I’m one of those geographically removed daughters who care for their aging parents from afar. Sure, I am fortunate in that I can go and visit and be with my parents several times a year. Skype is a godsend. And, I do a lot for them from thousands of miles away: I pay the bills and manage their finances, talk to doctors about each visit and help make decisions, supervise household repairs, order supplies, and hire and supervise some wonderful caregivers. Every day I am doing one or more of these activities in support of their life and care. But, sometimes at the end of the day, I must admit, I realize that I have been so focused on the details of managing their care and concerns that I haven’t even made the time to call and talk to them. As my kids would say, that sucks. Because I really love them and miss them and am so grateful that I can still talk with them. But, I’m not there with them every day. Someone else is.

Even adult children who live nearby can succumb to feeling guilty about not being the one to provide the direct care to loved ones who need it. I know that I’m not the only one who has felt guilty and, OK, a little envious when I walk in on my mother and a caregiver having a laugh together, or get sent a photo of them on a fun outing together. Have you ever felt like you don’t even recognize your parent when the caregiver describes a great experience they had with your parent that they would never have done with you? My parents went to the zoo? And, they had a good time?!

Sometimes when a caregiver is so good at being with my parents, the envy and guilt that I feel leads me to think of the caregiver as the Replacement. Replacements for me and my siblings, who for a host of valid reasons and circumstances, cannot be the caregiver. Fortunately, that feeling does not take over or become dark and ominous.  Rather it is like a cloud that hovers for a brief time and then dissipates. Here are some of the things that help me stay clear headed and positive about this:

  • In general, it is a good sign when your elderly family member develops a real relationship with the caregiver. Let go of any jealousy and be happy that they have found comfort in that person being in their life. Of course, there are some unfortunate exceptions to this, but we will leave that for another post.
  • Assisting with daily personal care can create its own burden of guilt and stress for some elderly parent and adult child relationships. Whether there is a history of unresolved conflict or anger, undue modesty of an older generation or lack of experience and skill, it is sometimes a great gift and stress reducer to have a professional home care person doing that kind of care.
  • For so many family caregivers who are stressed and overwhelmed by their responsibility to their loved one, it is healthy to let go of needing all of the control. You cannot be there every minute and make it perfect, but you do the best you can. And the best is often with the help of hired caregivers who have so much experience and knowledge.
  • Recognize the importance of the role that you do in support of their life at home and care. You are their advocate, their protector and often their critically needed life manager. Usually, there is no one else willing or able to do this job but you.
  • No matter how good a caregiver is, they cannot replace you as the keeper of the memories and truly knowing your parent, past and present.
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