Even though you knew it was time for your mom or dad to transition to senior living, that doesn’t make the new arrangement easier to bear. In fact, many family caregivers experience feelings of guilt after helping their parents move into an assisted living facility.
“Guilt is common for caregivers,” affirms Sharon Daily, LCSW-C, a social worker with Stella Maris home care in Maryland. “Caregivers can feel as though they should have done more; they can be very hard on themselves for needing to place a loved one in a facility for care.”
Here, with Daily’s help, we offer insights to assist families in letting go of guilt and embracing a new season of life.
Identifying the Causes of Caregiver Guilt
Family caregivers who make the difficult decision to move their parents to senior living may think they haven’t done enough, and that they’ve let their parents down. This kind of negative thinking leads to feelings of guilt because, as Daily explains, “how we think is how we feel.”
Rather than going down a rabbit hole of guilt, Daily encourages you to remember the reasons you chose senior living in the first place. Perhaps there were financial concerns, or family members were unavailable to help with care, or your parents were simply unwilling or unable to accept help in their home. Whatever the case, it’s doubtful that your parents’ need for specialized care is a result of something you did or didn’t do.
“Guilt can be caused by an unrealistic way of thinking that we can control what is happening in our loved one’s life, or that we can fix everything in our loved one’s life,” explains Daily.
Of course, lack of control can be a tough pill to swallow. Instead of turning your anger outward in rage or inward in depression, talk about these issues with your parents or a trusted third party, such as a therapist, a clergy member, or even a close friend or family member.
“Once you say something out loud, it becomes less daunting,” says Daily, adding that just as facing your fears can neutralize them, so facing your guilt can diminish it.
How to Handle a Guilt Trip
Obviously, all of this becomes more challenging when your parents are the ones trying to make you feel guilty about the senior living move. If that’s the case, remember that no one controls your feelings but you: “We are responsible for how we feel and how we act,” asserts Daily.
With that in mind, consider why your parents are trying to place a guilt trip on you. Though they may be lashing out at you, the underlying issue is often sadness about their own life situation, says Daily. Moving to an assisted living facility is a major life change, particularly if the move isn’t one your parents would have chosen for themselves.
“If statements are made that are hurtful and cause guilt, this is because your parents are hurting, too,” reminds Daily.
To move toward a more positive family dynamic, she recommends validating your parents’ feelings rather than arguing and allowing the anger to escalate. Let your parents know you’re there to support them and to advocate for them.
Letting Go of Guilt
In the end, addressing the root causes of your guilt can help you move past negative feelings and come to a place of acceptance.
“Identifying the reasons for your guilt can help you make a healthy change in the way you think about a situation,” says Daily. “Learning from your guilt is a way to grow.”
Because once you understand where the guilt is coming from, you’ll be better equipped to address it, and ultimately, to let it go.
“Let go of your guilt by understanding that we all have a life journey of our own, and we can get help along the way from those who care about and love us,” says Daily. “Adult children do not own their parents’ life journey, nor do adult children control it.”
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