Caregiving and ResentmentPosted: February 20, 2021
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