The Resentful Caregiver
May 12, 2014 · By AnnMarie
I wanted to be the kind of caregiver who never got frustrated, annoyed, angry or resentful. I aimed for perfection and heroism.
It wasn’t going so well.
First, I saw my mother-in-law go to her daughter’s after staying with us for 3 ½ years. As her dementia worsened, my frustration rose. I had my own parents to look after also, although not nearly the way I had to with my mother-in-law. In spite of my frustration, I wanted to be like the Old Testament Ruth who stayed by her mother-in-law’s side and cared for her in her old age as if caring for her own mother. I wanted to be like my friend Donna who welcomed her husband’s uncle into her home and kept him there until he passed away. Now, she is preparing to have her mother-in-law move in.
But I am not like Ruth or Donna. I am me: anxious, easily annoyed, angry that I’m the only daughter, angry that my brothers live so far away and have no idea what I go through. I like to throw pity parties for myself on a regular basis. I like to recount the day’s drama with my husband, daughters, or anyone who will listen.
I knew I needed to let go of these emotions—especially the resentment towards my brothers. It was eating at me, making me depressed, and affecting my relationships with those I loved. Intellectually, I knew it was wrong and unhealthy; emotionally, I wanted to keep throwing pity parties and be angry at everyone. I kept thinking back to a long-ago conversation I had with my priest on another topic, who helped me understand that life is not meant to be a continuous day at the beach (and I love the beach.) Sometimes you have to come home, and all you have to show for it is sand in your bathing suit. One of my favorite Scripture verses comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (English Standard Version)
I love this verse because it’s a wonderful reminder that we are meant to make sacrifices throughout our lives, and in doing so, we become stronger in ways we never imagined.
I needed to embrace this Scripture verse as my own. I read articles and books. I searched the internet for resources. I printed out articles and highlighted the parts that I thought held some promise for me. I prayed for God to get me through the day.
Then it happened–only by the grace of God–I was ready to begin to let go. Somehow the intellectual part of me convinced the emotional part that I needed to turn over a new leaf. I needed to stop being a whiner, a baby, a five-letter word that starts with a ‘B’.
By the grace of God, I am beginning to be okay with the fact that one brother has gotten out of helping me by leaving this world, and the other two live 1,000 miles away. I have started reminding myself that “it’s only for a season”, as our lawn maintenance man (of all people) told me one day. I also realized that other living/caregiving arrangements wouldn’t necessarily be any easier. I can’t expect a hired hand to be responsible for my father’s medical decisions and follow-through. I would definitely get tired of driving somewhere to visit or assist my parents if they didn’t live with me. I am beginning to process this new outlook, and I’m trying to step cautiously: I know there will be ups and downs, good days and bad.
Letting go of anger, frustration and resentment, however, has lifted a heavy stone from my chest. It has lightened me, and reminded me how good peace feels when it fills your heart. I know, however, that the devil will try to tempt me down the road, especially when I’m least expecting it. I will have to put up a good fight. But by the grace of God, I am finally ready to try.
Ahhh….RESENTMENT. Here are some comments made in my book, “What to Do about Mama?”
In addition, I was faced with perhaps an even more distressing aspect of caretaking—one with which no doubt many of you are familiar, whether you’re caring for a loved one short or long distance—and that is resentment toward other family members for not shouldering more of the responsibility. Not that I necessarily expected a 50-50 split, but a more equitable one would have eased my burdens considerably. (WTDAM p. 42 )
These “non-child” relationships can bring a whole new set of emotional conflicts, such as difficulty getting along in unfamiliar roles or resentment for making sacrifices that the “children” are not willing to make. (WTDAM p. 49)
Then there’s the issue of the “others,” the ones who are not taking on the responsibility of front-line caregiving. Too often, they are the ones who second-guess or criticize you. If you haven’t felt resentment before, you will now, and that emotion can really destroy relationships. Are you prepared to cope with this ongoing stress? (WTDAM p. 73 )
There’s a resentment of my siblings happily living their lives without the worry of what’s actually going on not only in my life but also my dad’s. (WTDAM p. 79 )
Don’t set your bar too high in comparison to the standards of other involved parties. Set boundary lines and stick to them. Taking on too much commitment and making too much sacrifice breeds resentment. (WTDAM p. 192 )
Now that our caregiving has ended, the relief is so palatable that I have no more anger, resentment or bitterness left. I do not hold grudges, but I am a little wistful that the “closeness” of the past is probably in the past, and I am unsure of any potential for the future. (WTDAM p. 113)
I agree with you, AnnMarie, that it is important to let go of negative emotions, which is, indeed, not an easy task. It can help to take some concrete steps: 1) establish realistic expectations; 2) set boundary lines, and 3) communicate with the “others” to formulate a joint “contract of commitment.”