No caregiver should ever feel that their best is never good enough.
If you’re a caregiver, you might be reading that and thinking, Oh, sure. Right. Tell that to (your relative here). And it’s totally normal to be thinking that, because caregiver guilt is real.
It’s also unnecessary. And downright harmful.
But caregivers do feel it, largely because of some common myths that no caregiver, including you, should ever believe. Here are 5 of the most common caregiver myths – and the messages you can give yourself to help counteract them.
1. If my loved one isn’t doing well, it’s because I’m not doing enough.
This is one of the top caregiver myths: That if you were really a good caregiver, your loved one would be improving. It’s so false it almost makes you wonder how it even got started.
Memo to Self: Please, remind yourself: You are a wonderful caregiver who’s doing everything within your power to take good care of your loved one. But you are not all-powerful. You are not G-d. It is not up to you to decide who improves and who declines.
As long as your loved one’s needs – read, needs, not wants – are taken care of (and by needs we mean nutrition, hydration, hygiene, and any ADL’s they can’t do themselves), in a loving, caring way, you are doing a fantastic job. If their situation doesn’t improve – or even declines – it has nothing to do with you.
2. I should feel caregiver guilt because I have such negative feelings about caregiving.
We all have those days when, as much as we love our jobs, we just don’t feel like going to work. Or taking out the garbage. Or, as much as we love our kids, we just wish someone else would get them off to school one morning so we could stay in bed.
But for some reason, caregivers feel that they have to feel positive and upbeat and enthusiastic about their roles – Every. Single. Day. Without fail.
How realistic is that?
Memo to Self: Caregiving is tough. Dealing with a loved one who has dementia, or is recovering from a stroke, or is suffering from just plain old cognitive decline, takes a superhuman amount of patience, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and inner calm. These are not emotions or traits that come easy. It’s okay to feel that you wish you didn’t have to do this. It’s okay to feel frustration when a loved one refuses to do what needs to be done for their health. Don’t push the feelings away. Let them flow – you’ll see, they’ll be gone much quicker that way.
3. My parents took care of me when I was small. Now it’s my turn, so I have to do this alone.
This is a real sabotaging thought that can come up whenever you feel like you need an extended family member to help out. It makes no sense even on its face – because, remember your parents were 2 people. You’re only one.
But caregiver guilt doesn’t like to get hung up on the details, does it?
Memo to Self: Yes, your parents took great care of you when you were little. And now you’re taking great care of them. But just like they never hesitated if they needed help – whether household help, or a babysitter or anything else – neither should you. If you need Aunt Helen to visit Dad instead of you, ask her. If you need your brother to take Mom to an appointment, just tell him. Asking for help makes you a better caregiver, not a worse one.
4. I’m the caregiver, so my loved one always takes priority over me. My needs and feelings are less important.
So there are two problems with this myth.
The first one is that it isn’t true. While you’re obviously not going to neglect your loved one – nor should you! – if you don’t leave yourself space for your own needs and feelings, you are going to burn out faster than you can say “caregiver’s guilt.”
The second problem is that this kind of thinking means that it’s not only your needs and feelings that are going to get ignored here. Let’s say your son Mike needs to go to a birthday party. The party happens to be at the same time that Dad needs to get to a doctor’s appointment. Dad only wants you to take him even though other family members are available.
Since Dad comes first, your son either misses the birthday party or comes really late. So he’s upset, angry and resentful, not just toward you but toward his grandfather. All you need is one or two incidents like this and you’ve driven a wedge in a relationship where none existed.
On the other hand, had you explained to Dad gently that someone else would be taking him, Dad might have grumbled and gotten annoyed. But there would have been no lasting damage.
Memo to Self: Taking care of your own needs is not selfish. You need to feel good in order to be a good caregiver. And your family’s needs are just as important, too. You want them to have positive feelings toward Mom or Dad?
5. Other caregivers do a better job than I do, and they feel more positive about it – instead of wallowing in caregiver guilt.
This is a really popular myth: That all the caregivers you know are doing a great job, feeling positive, getting their work done – and not feeling any guilt. Except, of course, you.
Memo to Self: You have no idea what other people are thinking and feeling inside. They might be just as frustrated as you are – and wondering how you have it all together! As for comparison, there’s no way to judge that. Every caregiver who deserves that title is doing the best they can.
So the next time you start feeling caregiver’s guilt, remember to give yourself those memos – and that you are doing one of the most important jobs in the world.