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Mary’s Corner: The Denial, Guilt, and Grief of Adult Children

Articles August 31st, 2015

Adult children have such a hard time stepping into their role as primary caregiver. Many of them don’t recognize that they’ve adopted this role, some flat out resist it. Each time I work with a new family, I often wonder how much easier the process would have been had the adult children embraced the role reversal and accepted responsibility for taking care of their elder; for making the tough decisions on their behalf as a responsible and coherent adult.

There are a lot of people who equate being a senior’s caregiver to being the primary guardian of a child. Not in regards to communicating, but in regards to care needs, keeping track of their diet, medications, and taking them to their doctors’ appointments.

A crucial difference between the two, however, is the “time-frame”. Even unexpected parents usually have a window of 9 months where they can assume their role ahead of time. The problem with becoming a primary caregiver of a senior is you may not realize you already are responsible for their wellbeing.

Many adult children undergo stages of denial, guilt, and grief.

  • With denial, it’s clear the adult children know their parents should not be living alone, but they refuse to be a part of their care needs. They think, “They can handle themselves,” or they assume too quickly that “They’ll never move into a retirement community” – many still operating under the belief that senior homes are dreary places to live.
  • With guilt, the families are in crisis mode. They need to get their loved one into a home and it feels like the clock is running out. It’s frantic and stressful, and the entire time they’re thinking, “Why didn’t I do something sooner?
  • Then, grief comes when a family makes the wrong decision during a crisis situation. It’s like making an error on your taxes the day they’re due. More hurdles; more headaches; more grief.

Taking on the Role of Caregiver of Your Loved One

It’s not easy to assume the role of caregiver of your elder and it’s not easy to prepare for it. It can feel unnatural. You don’t want to overstep your bounds, but at a certain point, you need to. It’s not easy to make decisions for your loved one, it’s like being promoted above your former boss. The dynamic shift is drastic, strange, and different… but if the company is going to function, you need to be willing to make the hard decisions and hold everyone accountable.

Adult children often get lost in this, even if they’ve accepted that they need to be involved, many still want to make decisions with their elder rather than for them. For many elders, they need their children to make the decisions for them. Adult children need to trust themselves to make those hard choices to keep their seniors safe.

Tips for Adult Children Caring for Their Aging Parents

If the guilt is still overwhelming, causing stress, and making you question how fit you are for the task of parenting your parents, then take a breather and look inside yourself; assess why you are caring for your elderly parent. Much more important than obligation is love. If you want your parents to live a long, healthy, and happy life, then make the decisions knowing that that’s what’s driving them. You want them to be safe and happy. It’s out of love that you do this, not fear or anger or hate – even if along the way, you feel those things.

Find out why you’re getting involved. Most adult children I work with agree that it’s out of love and if the “parenting a child” analogy works for you then consider how often you’ve prevented your child from doing something dangerous. It’s not easy to say no to them and it’s even harder to watch them cry or throw a tantrum, but you know that safety comes before being a “cool” parent.

When you get caught up in emotions, it’s easy to lose sight of the goals. It’s easy to want to find a home and be done with it, but for adult children who do it that way, the guilt doesn’t go away and it’s usually because they know they could’ve done more to ensure their seniors’ happiness.

With the Care Advisors, rest assured that while the decision falls on your shoulders, you don’t need to shoulder the guilt alone. We’ve been through this hundreds of times and we know what you’re going through; we know it’s not easy. That’s why we try and make this process as smooth as humanly possible. Contact our care advisors to be confident in the choices you’re making.

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