Helplessness. Vulnerability. Confusion. Anger. These are just some of the feelings seniors experience as they face the reality that their years of independent living have come to an end. The adult children who make elder care decisions also experience a torrid of emotion and guilt.
To facilitate acceptance of the need to move a parent into a care facility, adult children have to overcome their own denial, sometimes at lightning speed. Seeing a parent, who once was the ultimate authority, as a vulnerable person in need of care can trigger role confusion and grief. Even when there is time to process, adult children often report a kind of emotional whiplash as they try to maneuver the child-turned-parent relationship with their elder.
Adjustment takes time. Even once a parent is safely placed in a facility, feelings of guilt and grief can continue for adult children, sometimes for years. These feelings get expressed in a variety of ways, including the impulse to be constantly present at the facility, feeling depression or anxiety about not spending every waking moment there, or behaving in overly critical ways toward facility staff. Sometimes non-decision making adult children make things worse by refusing to discuss medical directives or refusing to visit the parent, leaving all responsibility on the shoulders of one sibling.
Aging is hard for all of us, and it’s especially tough on those charged with making decisions for those we love. It is helpful to remember that, in most cases, our parents did the very best they could for us and we are faced with doing the same. Unfortunately, guilt is a part of caregiving, but with time and awareness, it can be worked through effectively so that all parties can focus on what matters – enjoying the time that remains with loved ones.