Self Caring

Are Guilt Trips the Only Trips You Get to Take?

Last updated: May 27, 2011

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Summer vacation season is especially hard on homebound caregivers. There go your friends and, yes, families to beaches and camp-outs and far-flung places. And here you are: Taking care of business and (like the postcards say) wishing you were there.

As a reader shrewdly put it recently, "The only kind of trips I seem to take are guilt trips."

Here, a guided tour of the most popular caregiver guilt trip destinations -- and some more relaxing places to aim for:

Guilt over being mad at, annoyed by, or frustrated with your loved one.

A nicer trip: Forgiving yourself.

Realize that everybody gets mad, annoyed, and frustrated by many different things and people -- including those we care about most. If your feelings pop out, apologize, try harder, and let it go.

Guilt for wishing it were over.

A nicer trip: Acknowledging that mixed feelings are normal.

Wishing your life were no longer dominated by caregiving, or that a loved one could be no longer in misery, doesn't mean you don't love the person, or life itself. It's certainly realistic to despise a situation enough to wish it over.

Guilt over out-of-home placement.

A nicer trip: Looking at the bigger picture.

Feeling guilty about having to place a loved one in a nursing home or other type of assisted living is the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower, and Disney World of caregiver guilt trips all rolled into one. For better or worse, not all caregiving can be carried out at home in all situations. Keep high in your mind the reasons you came to the conclusion you did and know in your heart it's not a decision you made lightly. You did it because it was for the best, for everyone involved.

Some people even feel guilt over using in-home-care services. Again, after you reach a considered decision, don't let yourself forget that reality is always changing, and we do what we must.

Guilt over not having noticed certain signs or symptoms.

A nicer trip: Moving forward.

Okay, so now you're aware of that bedsore, a dementia or diabetes diagnosis, the reason for Mom's limp. It's unproductive and sapping to beat yourself up over the if-onlys and what-ifs when you could be using your precious energy to get the right treatment and provide good care. Humans aren't gods, they simply don't catch everything right away, or catch on to its severity.

Guilt over what caregiving is doing to the rest of your family.

A nicer trip: Reaching out.

Sometimes guilt whispers in our ear relentlessly to urge us to make a change -- especially when innocent bystanders are involved. If you're able to spend less time with a spouse and/or kids because of a caregiving crisis, look for more small ways to connect, even if it's just to have 1:1 talks each day over a meal. But if this has gone on for weeks, consider the guilt a wake-up call to find ways to get help with eldercare so you can free up more time for the others in your life. They're too equally important to be ignored. (And these loved ones are an important stress buffer you can't afford to miss out on.)

Of course, just like the globe has a zillion travel destinations, so does a caregiver's life have a zillion potential guilt-trip destinations. Drop me a postcard from your own latest guilt trip.