By Carol Bradley Bursack
One question that is often asked on Agingcare.com is, “How do I deal with the reality of leaving behind the life I had in order to become the primary caregiver to my parents?” The words used vary by the questioner, but the question is essentially the same. How do we cope with this major change in our lives?
It may sound selfish to some, but to caregivers who dove into caregiving with full hearts and no planning, then ended up sustaining this life-altering mode for months and often years, it’s a perfectly rational question. People put their lives, as they are living them, on hold in order to care for others. That’s good. But when “hold” becomes the new norm, there’s a mental adjustment to go through. And sometimes that includes dealing with resentment.
Adjusting to the new normal
Most caregivers go into caregiving mode with full hearts and wonderful intentions. They rarely stop to think, “Hmm, this could go on for years. I’d better plan it out. If I move to part-time at work, have more child care and spend mornings caring for my parents’ needs, it will be difficult, but possible. If I continue to work full time, I’ll have more for retirement, but I can’t do it all. I have to plan this out.”
No. We just jump in. Dad has a stroke, so of course we are there to help. He survives but needs a great deal of care. Mom can’t handle the hard physical work of caring for Dad. And she’s getting forgetful. So, it’s up to us. We make sure our folks get in-home help and make adjustments in our own lives so we can give them maximum help. Sometimes, we quit jobs or go to part-time work in order to care for our parents.
No matter what our age when we begin caregiving, caregiving is likely going to change our life as we’ve planned it out. If we have kids at home, they will have to adjust to sharing their time with you – with getting less of you. If you are older when caregiving enters your life, it often affects your retirement plans.
Deal with resentment from giving up your life
Many of today’s caregivers are couples who have both worked at paying jobs and who had a plan for retirement that included traveling or some other pleasant way of spending their later years. Now, with aging parents who have lived through health episodes that once would have killed them, or a parent who has lived beyond an age ever thought possible only to survive for years with Alzheimer’s, today’s couples are left with questions and often not just a little bit of resentment. Resentment isn’t a pretty emotion, and admitting those feelings to others will not likely bring pats on the back.