We have all felt it; that uncomfortable twinge when we feel like we aren’t living up to our expectations or someone else’s. Anyone who has children has experienced it many times when they’ve been hurt or disappointed. Sometimes it pushes us into right behavior that can move us to work harder or be more sensitive but more often it is an irrational wave of self-condemnation that instead breaks us down.
Lives have been never been more complicated. We have the duties of work, children, and community pulling us in different directions. It seems at times impossible to juggle. Add the responsibility of an aging parent to that list and we are quickly overwhelmed and…. guilty.
You feel guilty because you can’t visit enough. You feel guilty because you’re irritated that you have to repeat things or listen to the same story over and over. You feel guilty that you feel resentment that your parent is no longer a support but a responsibility. You feel guilty because your parent may not have been like the Cleavers and you carry wounds around your childhood that make it challenging to be a compassionate caregiver. Sometimes you feel guilty because you imagine for a fleeting moment the relief their death will give you.
This guilt can be self-created or come from siblings, extended family or even our culture. We desperately want to do the right thing by our parents but guilt unchecked leads very quickly to exhaustion and resentment. You are human, imperfect and must forgive yourself when you are impatient or struggling. There is no shame in giving away some of the duties and asking for help. It only frees you up to enjoy more meaningful moments with your parent. Know your limits, set up a care system before a crisis arises to prevent burnout.
Finally remember that while it seems that your parents got old and in need over night it was inevitable and a journey we all share. Reach out, express your needs and recognize the hidden blessings in this very intimate experience.