FAQs #3

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Q3. I love my mother... but everything is on my shoulders now, i.e. my parent's finances/health issues/housing issues/personal shopping, etc. How do I deal with MY anger/frustration/stress at this role-reversal?

A3. Ruth Tipton:
>First of all, recognize that there are many other adult children who are facing this same dilemma, so you are not alone in your anger, frustration and stress! In fact, experts say that one of the biggest health care crises looming over the nation is the exhaustion and depression faced by those who minister to aging relatives and friends. According to Jack A. Nottingham, Ph.D., executive director of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Human Development at Georgia Southwestern Sate University in Americus, Georgia, "While some handle the job with great equanimity, others suffer symptoms from general sadness to states of overwhelming anger, anxiety and depression."<cite>

Secondly, you should talk about how you feel — to anyone who might give you a sympathetic ear, your spouse, your best friend, your co-worker. Get it out instead of holding it inside yourself. Try to find others who have the same situation; get together for coffee, lunch or just a phone call. It's very comforting to actually talk about what's going on with someone who has gone through or is presently going through the same thing. Ask how they handle the situation in general — or specifics, such as alternative housing, finances, etc. You can get some good ideas that may help you.

There is a wonderful pamphlet I ran across recently called "Searching For Normal Feelings" by Doug Manning — published by In-Sight Books, Inc., Box 2058, Hereford, Texas 79045, phone: 806-364-7862. It really hit home with me and I wish I had found it some years ago when I realized my mother and I had changed places and I started feeling all my anger and guilt and stress!

And there IS help out there. The fact that you are right here on this site, seeking answers to your questions, is the first step. There are many professionals right here in our community — and in yours — who can guide you through this difficult process and help you (and your loved one) make some good decisions. Call on them — call on any of us. The more you communicate about your feelings, the better you'll be able to handle them. As Doug Manning said at the end of his pamphlet: "Feel what you feel." Whatever you feel is normal for you. It's really is OK.


Bonnie Shetler:
>I wonder whether you are taking on more responsibility for your parent than is necessary. It would not be unusual for a loving adult child to jump in with both hands and feet at the first sign of frailty in a parent. While a parent may lose the capacity to perform specific tasks , e.g. they can no longer drive because their eyesight is too poor, they may still maintain the ability to manage many aspects of their daily lives. Adult children are well advised to take on no more than is necessary — not only for their own emotional good, but also out of regard for a parent's dignity and independence.<cite>

If your parent is completely incapacitated, as may be the case in the middle and late stages of a dementia or a seriously debilitating physical illness, you are indeed confronting the need to have someone else completely manage his or her life. Few of us have either the time or the personal resources necessary to make all the decisions and perform all the tasks alone on behalf of an incapacitated parent. In addition to all the practical matters to which you must attend, you are losing or may have already lost your parent, the person who was there to advise you, bake you cookies, care about your life, your work, your relationships. No doubt you are grieving that loss while you are also trying to find time and energy to meet all your parent's needs. This situation is a setup for feeling overburdened, inadequate, abandoned, sad, and yes - very angry.

If your parent is suffering from a specific disease or disability — like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, or stroke related problems — I would strongly recommend that you contact a local support group that can provide information about the disease as well as practical advice and emotional support from other experienced caregivers. Sharing your circumstances and reactions with others who have been there can be both enlightening and therapeutic. A list of such groups is published on the internet by the Department of Human Development. Several other support groups for caregivers of disabled relatives are offered through Elderhaus and Stepping Stones, both adult daycare facilities. Consultants for Aging Families conducts a monthly group for adult children caring for aging parents.

In addition to support, information, understanding, you sound as though you could use some relief . Several options come to mind. First, where are the other family members? If you are not an only child, they are out there somewhere. Have you asked them for help? Even if they live at a distance or for some personal reasons are not able or willing to assist with routine duties, they may still provide you with support. A sister who can take off for a week and stay with Mom while you take a break. Or the brother, too busy with his work or unwilling to take his head out of the sand, could send money for respite care, a housekeeper, home delivered meals, or your Caribbean cruise break. Be creative, be specific, think about what you need in order to continue providing care and ask for that. What's the worst that can happen? The best that can happen is that you will feel supported by your family and not so alone in all of this.

A second option is adult daycare . Particularly if you are providing full time care, this is a way to get time off for yourself and provide a safe, stimulating environment for your parent for one, two or even five days a week. This does not reduce the burden of responsibility, but it does provide time for you to look after you, to renew connection with self and friends, to understand that you have a life beyond caregiving.

A third option is to hire a professional care manager to either consult with you or actually manage some or all of your parent's needs. A list of case management agencies is published by the Larimer County Office on Aging. This option does reduce the burden of responsibility for decisions and frees up time and energy which you can invest back into your personal life and into your relationship with your parent. Caregiving can become so consuming that it is easy to think of yourself only as the parent and to overlook the child who is missing her/his mother and father.

Remember that some of your anger and frustration may be a natural, unavoidable response to the loss you are experiencing. Like all stages of grief, anger is a necessary step in the process. While acknowledging this does not make it less painful, it may reduce some of the discomfort you may have felt with anger toward a helpless parent, other family members, the world in general, or God in particular.

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