Aging parents: How to cope with guilt

Aging parents: How to cope with guilt


In most cases, our parents are the ones who raised us. As our primary caregivers, they played an essential role in our development while growing up. That role can reverse over time - instead of being cared for, you may find yourself in a carer position. Having an aging parent certainly isn't an easy process. Seeing their loss of health or other problems that occur with aging may create challenging feelings, and guilt is often one of them.

Why guilt is common

Guilt is a complicated emotion, but it has a purpose in our lives, though. If we misbehave, then we rightly deserve to feel guilty. But also, we take on different expectations imposed by others and have our own expectations from ourselves. Not satisfying those expectations can often cause a feeling of guilt. This applies to many fields - relationships, career, school, various achievements.

Guilt is not an unusual emotion when it comes to caring for aging parents. It is a typical sentiment for many caregivers, regardless of the care recipient's age or their relationship. Undoubtedly, it's hard to see parents age. Sometimes we don't even realize the harsh truth until an emergency occurs. An additional problem here is that many older adults have difficulties accepting their loss of independence. Also, they tend to hide their problems because they don't want to burden their children. That's why the worsening of health or major health crisis may look sudden and hit everyone unprepared. If you have ageing parents, you have to be alert and notice subtle changes that indicate you when they need more help. As they become physically or cognitively challenged, it's natural to wish that their struggles could be taken away. The negative thoughts you may have in your mind can lead to your feeling as though you're not doing enough. Even if you're incredibly involved in your parents' life, you may still feel as though you're letting them down. That's why accepting the reality of the situation and effectively dealing with guilt is important for any caregiver of aging parents. We can offer love, support and help in some areas, but it's impossible to remove all discomfort that comes with aging.

Guilt and regrets

Depending on you and your parent's situation and relationship, you may be feeling a combination of guilt and regret.

Perhaps you've been too busy elsewhere to spend much time with an aging parent. Maybe you belong to the so-called "sandwich generation" of caregivers, and you have your own family that requires your attention. Maybe your career is occupying all your time. Perhaps you live far away, and you simply cannot be physically present in all moments they might need you. The physical absence from the aging parent life caused by various reasons and circumstances is a principal reason for feeling guilt mixed with regret. Lack of time in these busy times affects everyone, but still, it can be managed. If you feel this way, instead of being frustrated, be constructive with your time planning and include your parents whenever you can. The time you have now with them might not be retrieved, so use it well. Remember, it is not important the quantity, but the quality of that time together.

The other cause of pressuring emotions lays in conflicts between parents and children that are more-less present during all our lives. Maybe there are some unresolved issues and unspoken emotions between you and your parents. You may have snapped at your mom or dad and wish you could take that comment back. There are many reasons why we're not always our best selves, and feeling inadequate can cause regret and guilt at the same time. You can't take these comments or instances away, but you can discuss it and clear up the situation. It might be difficult, but better try now than being sorry later for not doing it at all. It's crucial to find a way to move past all the disagreements and enjoy the time that you have with your parents.

Start forgiving yourself

Ask yourself if feeling guilty helps any of the challenges that you're facing. That's a question to consider when you find yourself pondering over any past or current issues. Nothing can change the past. If you didn't provide the care as good as you would have liked, wallowing in guilt still does not help that outline.

What does make a difference, though? Be more effective. If you would like to improve your caregiving, start with determining where you need changes. Take step by step and be patient. No one expects that you can do everything all the time and all the best. Also, talk about your feelings with others - doubts, fears, worries, sadness, anger, happiness, joys. Don't be afraid to share both the successes and failures. You will realize that you are not alone. People can give you advice, change your perspective for better, and help you in various ways to ease your burden, both emotionally and practically.

Reach out for support

Although you will probably have to work through guilt multiple times throughout your life, when caring for an aging parent, make sure that you have a support system in place. This can be helping with both the physical and emotional aspects of caring for parents as they age. Guilt will peak if you feel that you're not doing enough for your aging parent. But you cannot do everything alone. You can handle some practical aspects by reaching out for additional services for your parents. It can involve having a person come by, stay with a parent, run errands and help around the house. It may include asking for additional home health and care services. If aging in place is no longer an option, you might consider senior residential options for a parent.

Often, people feel unnecessarily guilty about getting this extra help or arranging care for parents in different settings. But actually, it will provide better care and lead to a safer environment for the parent. Also, you will be more present with your parents and able to focus on more important things.

Use digital tools to support the whole process

With so many available technologies and digital tools, you can find the ones that will help you and your aging parents to manage better their health and care. One excellent tool for assistance is Gherry App. It was specially created to support aging people, their families and caregivers to manage health tracking and medications and organize everything related to care.

In conclusion

The guilt felt when caring for aging parents is similar to that of the busy parents feeling guilty for not spending more time with their children. We always think we will have time to make up for the missed things. For children, you might have time to do so. But, you know that the time is not on your side with the old parents and that you might lose that opportunity. Do the best you can, but permit yourself to be imperfect in your caregiving. Caregiving is a difficult job, and, understandably, you will face many challenges. You will not win all the battles, and you cannot accomplish all. Instead of questioning ifs and feeling guilty, focus on good things. Enjoy the time you have, and spend it in a quality way. Build the moments that one day will be the memories you will cherish dearly.

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Isabel Rosendo

Isabel Rosendo is a caregiver advocate, researcher, and content writer for Gherry. Moved by her own experiences and guided by deeply altruistic motives, she is an enthusiast on a mission to help and share knowledge about caregiving and senior care.

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