Resentment and Caregiving

The July 14, 2021, The Caring Generation Podcast focuses on the parent-child relationship. 

Resentment Towards Parents – The Caring Generation®

But in this post, I would like to focus on the topic of resentment from a broader perspective.  As caregivers soon discover, caregiving is fraught with a wide variety of emotions.  In my own situation as a daughter-in-law caregiver, resentment played a big part in the decisions I made in the last two years of our caregiving relationship.  Resentment was an emotion I wanted to avoid. 

These “non-natural-child” relationships can bring a whole new set of emotional conflicts, such as difficulty adjusting to unfamiliar roles or experiencing resentment for making sacrifices that the “children” are not willing to make. 

What to Do about Mama? p. 151

My husband has three siblings—one brother and two sisters.  I’m not sure if each of their childhood positions in the family played a role in the caregiving dynamics, but interestingly, it was the “middle children” who were most concerned about their mother living alone in Florida.  My husband, the oldest, and his “baby” sister were more inclined to accept their mother’s stated preference of continuing to live at a distance from her children. 

There was a lot of discussion, including a family meeting, and it was decided that Mom would move North and live near us and several of her grandchildren who were also located in the area.  Although my husband and I were her frontline caregivers, it was our expectation that his siblings, who were all able to travel to the area within a couple of hours, would visit frequently.

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?

What to Do about Mama? p. 167

It was also our expectation that as caregiving needs accelerated, the children would all pitch in to share the responsibility.  After two years, it became necessary for my mother-in-law to receive a greater level-of-care than she was receiving in her independent senior living community.  She then moved into our home, and I became her fulltime caregiver.  The arrangement worked well for another two years. 

But eventually, Mom’s health conditions hit the “slippery slope”.  When this occurred, and more involvement was not forthcoming, we had a choice to make.  For me personally, the choice became to either “accept” the status quo and feel resentful, or to confront the situation and establish boundary lines.  I chose the latter because I did not want to carry the burden of resentment. 

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. 

What to Do about Mama? p. 256

We called another family meeting, and eventually, a family mediation, which improved our system of shared responsibility.  However, in all honesty, it eventually resulted in my husband’s estrangement from his brother, and a much more tentative relationship with his sisters.  For me, I am profoundly saddened by the loss of the once-close relationship I had with my husband’s family.  I believe, however, that if I had allowed resentment to take hold, it would have been worse. 

Now that our caregiving has ended, the relief is so palpable 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.

What to Do about Mama? p. 194

Listen to the podcast to hear more about the following ideas: 

  • Resentment is caused by a lack of support and appreciation
  • Differences in values can cause relationship challenges
  • Personality differences impact resentment
  • How to stop resentment

Just Say “NO”?

Setting boundary lines in caregiving relationships is important.  When a caregiver has a hard time saying NO the resulting stress contributes to caregiver burnout. 

The 4-22-2021 DailyCaring article 4 TIPS THAT HELP CAREGIVERS SAY NO WITH CONFIDENCE, recommends considering requests from friends and family carefully by asking yourself whether the request is really necessary, or if it can wait, be postponed, or declined.   Taking on too much obligation and allowing yourself to be overburdened by others is essentially self-defeating.

Click here to read article: 4 Tips That Help Caregivers Say No With Confidence – DailyCaring

My response:

I agree, and it’s an issue I address repeatedly in What to Do about Mama? Expectations and Realities of Caregiving by Barbara G. Matthews and Barbara Trainin Blank:

“We certainly could have set more boundary lines and lowered our bar of standards. The fact is, we could have made different choices and still provided good support for his mother—at least to a level more comparable with that of the other siblings.”

“Learn to say no when you can do so safely, and not lose yourself.”

“*Set boundaries
*Share responsibility
*Take care of yourself
*You must have something fun to do—DO IT and make time for yourself
*You must have something to look forward to. Have someone you can talk to and share your feelings with, laugh as
often as possible, and maintain friendships.” Jillian’s Story

“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.”

“Katrina began to establish boundaries. She took back her Saturdays and told her mother that she needed to make her own friends and participate in activities at the retirement community where she lived.”

“Understand and set personal limits: Look beyond the current situation and anticipate how the demands of caregiving will increase as the care receiver becomes more debilitated. Make sure you consider your ability to handle future burdens. Caregivers must know how to set boundaries and request support whenever they find they are unable to deal with a situation or challenge on their own.”

“I learned how to say, ‘No,’ in addition to knowing when to say, ‘Yes.’”

What to Do about Mama? pp. 18,130, 81, 256, 266, 267

A caregiver who constantly puts others above themselves risks real repercussions, including having to face other physical or mental health issues themselves. 

According to the DailyCaring article:  “Many caregivers are used to putting others before themselves and have a tough time saying no to additional requests for their time and energy. Following are four tips that help caregivers consider their own needs and well-being before saying yes out of habit.”   

  1. Create a calendar of your caregiving responsibilities.  This helps to clarify how much extra time you actually have to devote to others. It is a good visual reminder that you do not need to give up ALL your time.
  2. Schedule “me” time.  Your “me” time is a previous obligation to yourself—and there’s no need for you to explain!
  3. Decide what’s necessary and what is not. Block out the time for yourself without guilt. 
  4. Practice asking others for their help.  When you feel you are being consumed by caregiving and find yourself at a breaking point—learn to ask for help. 

Learning to set boundary lines was a lesson I learned well, as a caregiver.  How did those boundary lines work for me?  That depends on your perspective. 

It is important to realize that although you have control over the choices you make in life, you have no real control over the choices made by “the others”. 

When my mother-in-law complained to her daughter that I was taking her to get her nails done every three weeks instead of two, her daughter chose to email me with the request that I “accommodate” her mother in this very “small” way. 

When I accepted a Hospice respite weekend so that I could entertain weekend visitors in my home, another daughter chose to tell me I was being selfish. 

 When I explored new ideas with my mother-in-law about ways to adjust to her increasing needs, she chose to say to me “Everything is for your convenience!”

Were these the responses I was looking for?  No.  But saying “NO” and setting boundaries caused me much less resentment in the long run. 

Caregiving.  It’s Never Easy.