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
Most caregivers, I think, enter into caregiving with good intentions, but that is no guarantee that the endeavor will end well. Caregivers sometimes sacrifice their careers, income, marriages, friendships, and health. Oftentimes they find themselves stuck and thinking they have reached a point where they can no longer care for elderly parents.
In her July 7, 2021, podcast: When You Can No Longer Care for Elderly Parents-The Caring Generation®, Pamela Wilson discusses seven ways to disentangle yourself from caregiving.
But what really hooked me on the podcast was information shared by Pamela’s guest, Dr. Ingrid Bacon, a mental health therapist, researcher, and educator at Kingston and St. George’s University of London.
Now, I have given a lot of thought to my past caregiving experience. So much so that I wrote What to Do about Mama? which was, I think, a way of processing the ups and downs of that experience.
But when I listened to Dr. Bacon speak about the tendency for caregivers to excessively meet the needs of others—to the expense of their own needs—I found myself looking at my own experience from a new and different perspective.
Bacon noted that some family caregivers exhibit an injury pattern of extreme emotional, relational, and occupational imbalance—problems linked to their formative childhood experiences. The caregiver’s need for growth, self-development, validation, safety, or belonging, for example, can result in an over adaptation to the needs of others. Subsequently, these self-sacrificing behaviors lead to a suppression of their own needs and emotions, and a dynamic of interpersonal control. All combined, these factors create conflict that is detrimental to the whole caregiving process.
This process was complicated in my personal caregiving situation by the fact that I was not a daughter, but a daughter-in-law. I did not grow up in the same environment as had my husband and his siblings.
Circumstances of my childhood were such that my basic need for safety, stability, nurturing, and acceptance were not adequately met. Although I know that my involvement with my husband’s family from the age of 18 was largely based on my need to be a part of a (safe, stable, nurturing and accepting) family, I realize now that they probably did not know the extent to which they filled that need.
Because I wanted to express my “thanks” for being a part of this family for 40 years, I sacrificed a lot to care for my mother-in-law—with the expectation that my brother and sisters-in-law would be making like-sacrifices. Through over-adapting, I became almost imprisoned in the role; entangled in excessive doing and caring to the point of burnout.
The results were not pretty. During the last of 7 years of caregiving, I detached emotionally from my mother-in-law and my relationship with my siblings-in-law devolved from being historically good to one that is now nearly non-existent.
“Where do we go from here? Well, I really don’t know, but I do know it will depend on the kind of relationship my husband wants with his family, my gentle urging, and his siblings’ receptiveness and response. David has never been proactive in maintaining relationships. The frequent interaction we had with his family once his mother moved north all revolved around her. I don’t know if the current lack of interaction is a matter of returning to the old status quo or if it is about hurt. They have now “all moved on” in their best “we don’t talk about it” fashion. Time will tell if the moving on will include us, or not. This is not the way I would handle it, but really, this is not about me.”What to Do about Mama? p. 40
It has been ten years since my mother-in-law passed away. I cannot comment on the relationships my husband’s siblings have with each other, but as far as my husband and I are concerned, the process of their “moving on” makes me question if our once-warm bond was nothing more than a figment of my imagination.
Pamela Wilson’s Seven Steps to disentangle yourself from caregiving
- Decide and commit to changing the situation mentally—in your mind.
- Create a family care plan to present and discuss with your parents and the family.
- Be open to learning.
- Be honest and transparent.
- Hold a family meeting to announce your decision to decrease, modify, or end caregiving responsibilities.
- Support two-way conversations with siblings, parents, and others who want to discuss the plan.
- Commit to regaining your sense of self–to identify what you value and what you want and need from life.
Thoughts for consideration
Do not buy into faulty beliefs:
- Denial: Assuming that children will care for their parents or that parents will never get sick or need care.
- Avoidance: Not preparing ahead of time by initiating caregiving conversations before a “crisis situation” develops.
- Control: Taking over because you think it’s easier or faster to take charge.
To move forward when you realize you cannot live like this anymore:
- Prepare mentally.
- Research information.
- Contemplate your situation—think ahead.
- Commit to change.
- Offer options
- Be honest and transparent about escalating needs.
- Recognize that others may fear change, and therefore, resist.
- Ask siblings how they want to participate to implement needed changes.
- Set a realistic timeline, then move ahead.
- Be prepared for conflict. Guilty feelings foster defensiveness. Remain calm and listen without justifying your need to regain independence and tp live in peace.
- Solicit outside help to navigate family conflict.
- You are not a “quitter”. Do not fall back into a pattern of fear and self-doubt.
There is life after caregiving!
My husband and I were caregivers for his mother for seven years when she moved from Florida to our community in Pennsylvania and later into our home. Because I had had a historically good relationship with my husband’s family, I never anticipated that caregiving would weaken the rapport we had developed for over 40+ years.
Barry Jacobs noted several ways that caregiving impacts sibling relationships, and although the specifics of our stories sometimes differ, the generalities are the same. Jacob’s observations are in black, ours are in red.
- Sibling disagreements created resentment that caused long-term damage to family relationships.
We thought we had established a cooperative plan of shared-responsibility, but two of the four siblings did not meet agreed upon expectations.
- Caregiving relationships can become strained.
Although their brotherly relationship had already declined in adulthood, with caregiving it devolved into estrangement. A good relationship with a sister also became strained to the point of estrangement, but fortunately it has been mended.
- Attitudes about level-of-care needs can differ. My husband’s brother and sister-in-law were the most insistent that their mother could no longer live independently, but it was also they who were the least-willing make sacrifices or provide care.
- Disagreements replay old childhood dynamics. Repressed childhood resentments were the root of the adult conflict that began to surface when my husband left home to go to college. The resentment became toxic decades later after their mother died and the estate was being settled.
- The dynamics created by birth order still had an impact. When growing up, there was a definite pecking order in my husband’s family based upon the siblings’ age and sex. This dynamic played out again in adulthood when my husband’s mother named him Executor of her will near the end of her life.
- Pulling together to care for a parent(s) makes some adult siblings draw closer together, but many sibling disagreements about needs and how to share responsibility create resentments that sometimes simmer, occasionally explode, and invariably cause long-term damage. As caregiving needs escalated, my husband and I called a meeting to re-clarify our expectations for all four siblings to honor their commitment. After the meeting, resentment grew, leading to family mediation, which was conducted by the hospice spiritual advisor. There was begrudging agreement and follow through until the end. But after their mother died and the estate was being settled, there were financial accusations, the repercussion of which was long-term resentment and estrangement.
Again, visit https://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-07-2013/family-siblings-aging-parents-jacobs.html for tips about: How to Share a Caregiving Role with One or More Siblings.”