Caregiving and Resentment

Pamela Wilson, The Caring Generation, recently discussed the topic of resentment as it applies to conflict that develops when a caregiver feels forced to choose between a spouse and caring for an elderly parent. Actually, Pamela has done a number of podcasts about how resentment is significant to a wide variety of caregiving scenarios and you can check these out here:  You searched for resentment – Pamela D Wilson | The Caring Generation

But the story I want to share today is how resentment played out in my own caregiving experience. I am going to tell this story by sharing excerpts from my book, What to Do about Mama?  by Barbara G. Matthews and Barbara Trainin Blank.

First of all, there was never any resentment between my spouse and me that involved the elderly parent for whom I cared.  Why? Because the elderly parent was his.  Yes, I was the caregiver for my mother-in-law. 

I need to go way back in time to lay a foundation of the relationship I had with my husband’s family. It is very significant to the way I, as a daughter-in-law, ended up becoming the primary caregiver for my mother-in-law. In 1966, my first day at college, when all the freshmen were trolling about checking out members of the opposite sex; I met my future husband. I learned that David came from a military family and that his dad, mom, brother, and two sisters were all still living in Germany. I met David’s family the following summer when they returned to the States, and I was thrilled to be included in their family life. My own family had sort of disintegrated after my father passed away a few years earlier. I always felt cared for and included by David’s family, and that did not change after we married. 

What to Do about Mama? p.7

My father-in-law passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, during in his sleep one night.

My in-laws lived in Florida, where they had moved in 1971. It was unusual for them to live in one place for so long, since Dad had been in the military for thirty years. Mom did not drive, and David and I extended an open invitation for her to live in our hometown. Mom wanted to stay in Florida and felt she was able to, despite not driving. She would come north three or four times a year and stay about a week with each one of her four children.

What to Do about Mama? p.8

After my mother-in-law’s health began to decline, we began to look for various living options in our hometown, which we would show her when she came to visit.  However, when she remained resolute about staying in Florida and we did not pressure her.  But after a visit, my husband’s brother became alarmed about his mother’s safety.  After returning home he recruited one of their sisters as an ally and the two of them began in earnest to enlist the family’s help to convince Mom to move north.

The general consensus was that if Mom would agree to the move, our hometown was probably the best choice because of the proximity of family members. In addition to David and me, our three grown children lived in the area, as well as one of Shelley’s sons. Shelley and Sandy each lived about two hours away, and it was expected that Scott could fly in easily. We anticipated that they would all make frequent visits.

What to Do about Mama? p.9

Initially, my mother-in-law moved into an apartment in a supportive independent-living retirement community in our town. We had an expectation, based on prior discussions, that Mom’s move would afford his siblings the opportunity to spend more time with their mother. The sister who had advocated for her mother to move north visited monthly, but we were disappointed that the other two did not increase the frequency of their visits.  Still, the arrangement worked quite well for two years, until the inevitable crisis moment occurred, permanently changing the direction of our lives—both ours and hers.

David’s and my decision to take Mom into our home was based on two main objectives: first of all, to end the cycle of injury, hospitalizations, and nursing home stays; and secondly, to help Mom meet her goal of seeing her last grandchild graduate from college. Additionally, since I worked at Aging, I had been living a life filled with old, sick people both on and off the job. In retrospect, I guess that didn’t change.

What to Do about Mama? p.12

Adjustments were required, and adjustments were made, but altogether we had another good two years.  But then, as is inevitable, my mother-in-law’s health began to disintegrate, taking family relationships right along for the long downward slide. Why?  Because of resentment. 

I began to harbor hard feelings toward my in-laws—because they were unwilling to make sacrifices anywhere near the level we were making.  And of course, the resentment was not one-sided.  We had a family meeting, but my husband’s siblings reacted defensively and angrily–their resentment probably stemming from guilty feelings.

Worst of all, when caregiving became increasingly more difficult, to the point of being unmanageable, it became requisite to mitigate new deficiencies on an almost daily basis.  It was then that my mother-in-law expressed her resentment by saying, “Everything is for your convenience!”  It was all downhill from there. 

Going into the arrangement, I thought we did a lot of things right.  But ultimately, we had made too many assumptions and had received too little commitment.  Our expectations had been unrealistically high.

Despite a good multi-decade relationship, the difference in our family cultures and its impact on who we were as people was just too vast. Once the trouble began, interaction among all parties became increasingly difficult, and then impossible. That was the quicksand I never saw in my path. Ultimately, my husband and I have come to believe that it takes a caregiver to understand a caregiver. They did not understand.

What to Do about Mama? p.40

 


CAREGIVING: It’s Never Easy

I cannot say this enough. No matter how much you think you are prepared, caregiving will throw you punches.  A big part of your ability to handle the responsibility is having realistic expectations.  I appreciate that Pamela Wilson, unlike many of those who write about caregiving, makes this perfectly clear in the January 20, 2021. Episode of The Caring Generation® “Being a Caregiver Is Not Easy”. Below is a synopsis of the podcast. Support examples from my caregiving book, What to Do about Mama? appear in red.

Being a Caregiver Is Not Easy – The Caring Generation® (pameladwilson.com)

This episode is based on the following premises:    Caregivers often describe caregiving by saying, “It’s more challenging than I ever imagined.”  Being a caregiver is not easy, but neither is being the person who receives care.

“If that person’s values and wishes are not respected and taken into consideration, you are bound to run into resistance and conflict. Who doesn’t want to remain in the driver’s seat of life? It is imperative to respect your loved one’s independence and dignity—it is, after all, that person’s right to make choices and decisions.”  

What to Do about Mama? pp. 152-153

Happy people possess qualities that help them remain positive and optimistic.  Wilson highlights eight topics that delineate why caregiving is not easy and what positive people do:

Number One:
The positive optimist recognizes that life consists of making hard choices. They view these problems or challenges as ways to promote growth of problem-solving skills. Caregiving entails hard choices to be made by everyone involved, including the caregiver, the person needing care, a spouse, and so on.  Both caregivers and care receivers will be be making choices of varying degrees of difficulty that they would prefer not to make at all.

  • Should I trade my time with friends this weekend or spend time at my parents in caregiving activities?
  • Should I have my mom come and live with me of should she live in a care community?
  • Should I choose chemotherapy and radiation for my cancer or opt for not receiving treatment and the alternative? 

“The differences in the caregiving situations I observed were extreme, but from the best scenarios to the worst, caregiving was never easy.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 155

Making difficult or hard choices becomes a way of life if you are a caregiver or an aging adult. When dealing with one problem after another, Wilson recommends preparing for “what-if” situations by creating multiple plans. Writing the problem(s) down can help with visualizing whether we are bothered by a problem or only a symptom, and whether or not the challenge even has any ideal solutions.  She encourages participation in a support groups and says it is helpful to solicit opinions of how other people have handled similar situations. 

“It’s helpful to hear the perspectives and suggestions of other caregivers and professional staff and to sometimes receive the ‘nudge’ needed to make difficult choices.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 181

Aging in place or going to a care community is a good example of a difficult choice that entails having uncomfortable conversations about a number of multiple next-steps as potential solutions.

“People feel uncomfortable saying anything, so no one really expresses what they want or don’t want. Maybe they worry about hurting feelings; maybe it’s too emotionally painful to make difficult decisions. People think it won’t happen or want to pretend it won’t happen. They adopt the approach, “Since I don’t know what to say, I won’t say anything.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 277

Number Two:
The second quality of a positive optimist involves interpersonal interactions and communication.  How do you handle embarrassment, relating to doing something for the first time (such as assisting with toileting), and fear, relating to doing something in which you have no experience (such as wound care)?   Both can be uncomfortable care situations.  But these are problems that improve with “the doing”. 

“Not only was it terribly disturbing to clean up (and embarrassing for her), but I was angry at another family member who just sat there and didn’t do anything— as if the problem would go away by itself.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 321

“When the initial alarm sounds, caregivers are filled with worry— maybe even fear. They kick into action to find a solution that will make it “all better.” In the attempt to gain control of the situation they become the caregiver.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 174

Another even trickier area of interpersonal interaction and communication comes with dealing with other family members.  As a burned-out caregiver, you may feel that you can’t continue at either the current level of help that you are giving, or the amount of help that you are receiving.  You need to have a family talk.  Good communication skills are essential, and you can learn how to have these conversations.  But does that ensure that the family members you want to talk to will have good communication skills, too?

“We made too many assumptions, and with our differing styles of communication, too many hard feelings developed at the time of our greatest need—the last two years of caregiving, when my mother-in-law’s health went into serious and rapid decline.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 244

Number Three:
The third quality of a positive optimist is having a growth mindset. I call this a “Can Do Attitude.”  This means that you believe you can succeed with time, effort, and learning.  You look at challenges as opportunities. In other words, you’re persistent and don’t give up; you’re likely to listen to the suggestions of other people and say, “Yes, that might work,” as opposed to “That won’t work.”  These are the folks that set goals and take action, as well as educate themselves rather than looking back, and saying, “Oh, I wish I knew then.”

“Sometimes caregivers express the feeling that they had expected caregiving to be “easy,” but they found out through the actual experience that it was truly very difficult. Through the process of “rising to the occasion,” they discovered newfound capabilities and personal growth.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 242

“Problem-solving: It’s important to know how to identify a problem, consider solutions, develop a plan of action, and put that plan into practice with determination and a “can-do” attitude. If they don’t have the knowledge needed, caregivers do not hesitate to research and discover how to solve problems.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 264

Number Four:
The fourth quality of a positive optimist is the ability of the individual to recognize the importance of making time to care for themselves physically and mentally.  Too often caregivers feel that they have put their life on hold to care for their aging parents. And the fact is, they probably are, so the best that can be done is to recognize that you cannot care effectively for others if you do not care for yourself. 

“Accept offers of help so that you can regularly schedule time to take care of yourself. Eat right, get rest, exercise, and see the doctor when you need to. Schedule time to nurture and recharge yourself. Enhance your inner peace through your choice of relaxing activity: read, journal, meditate, pray, listen to music, find a retreat (even if it’s just soaking in the tub). Schedule others to provide services: minimize your chores by hiring a cleaning lady; get time away by hiring a senior sitter.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 180

Number Five:
The fifth quality of a positive optimist is the ability forgive and to move past hurt feelings—not holding grudges—leaving anger, disappointment, resentment, and thoughts of revenge behind.  It’s taking responsibility for making a plan to forgive and to move beyond the sibling rivalries of childhood. 

“In the real world, when there’s a pressing need to collaborate and make important decisions (especially with a resistant parent), you may not all be in top form, but, rather, anxious and overwhelmed. Your relationships may be knocked off balance by the magnitude of caring for aging or failing parents. Feelings for each other shift, sometimes weakening the ties and intensifying sibling rivalries of the past. There may be jealousies related to perceived “favored children” or worries about issues of inheritance. A frequently reported caregiver frustration is the lack of consistent help from other family members; a large portion of sibling caregivers (40 percent) end up having serious conflicts with each other. Most of us do not even see that we are about to become mired in the quicksand until we step in it and it begins to suck us down.”

What to Do about Mama? pp. 188-189

Number Six:
The sixth quality of a positive optimist is making the effort to get sufficient sleep, the lack of which stresses your immune system, causes illness, and diminishes your mental abilities. 

“Make sure that you as the caregiver get enough rest and sleep. What happens to your loved one if you also become ill? If you are having trouble getting enough rest, ask your doctor for medications that will relieve your stress or sleeping problems. I never thought I would ask for help, but this is how I made it through the rough times.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 140

Number Seven:
The seventh quality of a positive optimist is to be proactive in maintaining relationships with family and friends in order to reduce social isolation and loneliness. 

“Jillian (p. 80) agrees, urging caregivers to have something fun to look forward to in their schedule—to make time for activities other than caregiving responsibilities. “Make time for yourself and do it! Maintain friendships, have someone you can talk to and share your feelings with. Laugh as often as possible.”

What to Do about Mama? p. 153

Number Eight:
The eighth quality of a positive optimist is making it a deliberate practice to create a regular routine—especially to put in practice the previous seven topics on the list

“Mom was now on oxygen full time. We started the New Year with her being homebound for six weeks due to receiving in-home services—visiting nurses and physical therapists—followed by another few weeks of waiting for the winter weather to break. New routines with oxygen and dressing assistance added up to a lot more time with hands-on caregiving.” 

What to Do about Mama? p. 14

My daddy didn’t turn 49

See the source image

Your tribute to your father is touching. Although I do not follow any particular rituals in the mourning of my father, something I have done for nearly 60 years, I find that every milestone crossed is accompanied by the thought: I wish he could have known ______, or experienced _______, or that we could have shared _____. His death, and the circumstances surrounding his death were formative to who I grew to be as a person. The pain of losing him never goes away completely, and I know by now that it never will.

Cherish your memories and be thankful you have them.

Today Papa did not turn 73

The skeptic's kaddish

Today is Papa’s birthday.

In Jewish tradition, we tend to commemorate the dates (on the Hebrew calendar) of our loved ones’ deaths, rather than their birthdays. Same goes for historic figures like our Jewish sages of the many centuries.

Generally, as somebody who deeply appreciates and respects his people’s traditions, I tend to think of them as frameworks for expression of human experiences. I don’t believe that they were designed by or mandated by God, but I do believe that they reflect and are the culmination of many, many centuries of Jewish wisdom.

That’s how I approached my year of mourning, following Papa’s death.

But the truth is that I often find our traditions to be… lacking? No, not quite lacking… insufficient? At least – insufficient for me. The practice of reciting the mourner’s kaddish on a daily basis during the first year of mourning for a parent was –…

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