Failing as a Family Caregiver

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The Caring Generation® – Episode 135 April 27, 2022. On this episode, Failing as a Family Caregiver, Pamela D Wilson, shares eight reasons family caregivers struggle. Learn how guilt or feeling responsible for things caregivers don’t control can result in feelings of failure and how to look at care situations more objectively. 

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Failing as a family caregiver is a complicated subject because the idea of failing at a job you felt pressured to accept may seem unusual or unfair. Many family caregivers tell me that they had no choice but to become caregivers for an aging parent or a spouse. There was no one else because brothers, sisters, and other family members refused to help.

Reasons Family Caregivers Feel Like Failures

Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel

The word fail and the idea of being a failure bring up many negative emotions, especially if you feel that you have failed in one part of life. Maybe you didn’t get the job you wanted, the guy or girl you fell in love with, or you weren’t chosen to be on a team. Many events in life can make us feel like we could or should have done better, and we may have regrets.

Differences in Failing

The difference between failing as a family caregiver and failing In other parts of life is that we more often relate failure to something we want instead of something we don’t want. If we’re being honest, most people don’t add the title or the role of a caregiver to the top of their bucket list. I doubt that being a family caregiver is #1 on the list of New Year’s Resolutions that you make year after year.

Traditional Advice About Failing vs. Advice for Family Caregivers

Anytime we set a goal, the potential for failure exists. The more successes we have, the less we worry about the possibility of failure.

Even though failing can be painful to the ego, failure offers lessons about how to approach situations differently. For example, I always recommend having a plan and a backup plan for caregivers.

One positive action you can take is cultivating a mindset to acknowledge that plans you make may need to be adjusted based on unexpected situations or outside factors that caregivers don’t control. Traditional wisdom about failing includes being persistent, not making excuses, holding yourself accountable for results, learning from past mistakes, being disciplined, and maintaining a positive attitude.

Becoming a Caregiver is an Unpredictable Territory

Becoming a family caregiver is something that most of us do eventually in one way or another. But, whether you have children—yes, parents are caregivers—or you care for other people in your family, there will be situations you can’t predict.

For example, many situations arise when you care for an elderly parent or spouse who has physical difficulty getting around, multiple health issues, or memory loss. Increasing involvement with community services, healthcare, and other providers can increase the complexity of decision-making.

Eight Common Caregiver Problems That Lead to Failing as a Caregiver

Let’s look at eight common caregiving problems that result in family caregivers feeling like a failure. These issues are the factors that make feeling like you are failing as a caregiver different from other types of failures.

1 – Physical Health

Physical health concerns are the number one contributor to feeling like you are failing as a caregiver. These are health concerns belonging to an elderly parent, a spouse, or the care receiver. But eventually, due to the stress of the caregiver’s many roles, the caregiver experiences health problems.

For caregivers, diagnoses like high blood pressure, generally not feeling well, frequent colds, or other minor annoyances result from physical and mental exhaustion. Caregivers work non-stop.

How many caregivers dream of taking a nap or going for a walk, but that list of all the things to be done outweighs the importance of taking care of yourself? Caregiving becomes unbalanced when caregivers fail to take time for themselves because of saying yes to being helpful, resulting in not having enough time to get it all done.

Overscheduling and Overcommitting

Overscheduling and overcommitting are actions contributing to where failing as a family caregiver begins. Family caregivers who feel that they have to do it all rarely think about asking for help or finding help.

Caregivers begin doing X or Y, and then add A, B, and C. Suddenly, there is an entire alphabet list of 26 things you have to do.

What if, instead of this list of things you feel must be done, you consider various aspects that contribute to failing as a family caregiver? Are you weary or exhausted.? If so, feeling exhausted might mean that you fail to get enough sleep, may not be eating a nutritional diet, or do not make time for yourself for self-care like meditation or exercise to have more energy.

Degrees of Failure

Failure doesn’t have to be a big colossal life-changing event. When you think of it, avoiding failure can be as simple as realizing that something isn’t right.

Mom or dad has a fever this morning. They don’t seem as cognitively aware, refuse to eat, or seem a little off. Noticing these tiny changes in condition can help avoid significant health issues like pneumonia or an infection that can go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

A Lack of Self-Care Contributes to Health Concerns

It’s essential to examine how the actions of family caregivers might contribute to sleep problems, a weakened immune system, or new health issues that didn’t exist thirty days ago. For example, are you feeling more stressed, irritable, or impatient?

These changes in the physical body or emotions are warning signs of being rundown or moving toward an unbalanced life. So let’s translate these concerns to aging parents and spouses.

As a family caregiver, you may feel guilty or responsible for your loved one not feeling well. However, the bottom line is that your actions did not create your parent’s or a spouse’s health problems.

Are You A Fixer?

While caregivers dream of fixing problems and the day-to-day struggles of aging parents, maintaining or managing concerns may be the best that can be done. One example is caring for a mother previously diagnosed with high blood who has a heart attack and now feels tired all the time.

Because of the heart attack, mom can’t be as physically active as before. Overall she doesn’t feel well and spends most of her time in bed or sitting in a chair in the living room watching television. It’s almost as if mom doesn’t care about trying to help herself feel better.

Caretaking: A Caregiver’s Need to Be Needed

As the caregiver, you didn’t create mom’s health issues in this example. But you may be affected by her health issues by accepting the role of being her caregiver.

While you might feel like you bear responsibility for another person’s health or emotional state, you don’t own the problem. Fixing isn’t your job.

If you feel that you are failing as a family caregiver, ask yourself why you feel responsible for solving other people’s problems or making them happy. There is a big difference between being a caregiver and being a caretaker.

For more on this topic, including research about co-dependent relationships, listen to The Caring Generation podcast Episode 93, When You Can No Longer Care for Elderly Parents.

Setting Caregiver Boundaries

One of the best ways to avoid failing as a family caregiver is to set boundaries early in caregiving relationships. While you may be committed and feel responsible for caring for dad, mom, grandma, grandpa, or a spouse, feelings of duty can go too far when you take on everyone else’s work.

Owning actions and behaviors is each of our responsibilities. Your mom, who had a heart attack, may have had high blood pressure for years. Maybe the doctor told mom to quick smoking, exercise, lose weight, eat healthily, and mom decided that being healthy was too much work, so she ignored the doctor’s advice.

As a result, today, mom’s life is negatively affected by health concerns. This doesn’t mean that, as caregivers, one cannot feel compassion or empathy. It does mean that caregivers should not feel like they have failed when a loved one’s health worsens.

Care Receivers Can Feel Like They Have Failed

Care receivers can feel like they’ve failed and have regrets about not participating in healthy habits. One of the hard truths is that changes in health happen for various reasons, some explainable and others not.

At some point, the body fails and dies. A loved one’s health worsening is usually not due to intentional neglect by family caregivers.

Health problems advance in severity over time. To avoid feelings of failing as a family caregiver, caregivers and care receivers must accept responsibility for actions taken or what they are willing to do to change.

Some health conditions can be maintained when proven to halt the declines are implemented. Watching a parent or spouse suffer from physical health issues can serve as a red flag warning for adult children and spousal caregivers to pay more attention to their health.

2 Changes in Emotions or Mood

caregiver failureNumber two for failing as a family caregiver is experiencing ongoing changes in emotions or mood. Managing a care situation can feel uncontrollable when emotions fluctuate from feeling happy and depressed to frustrated or guilty.

Caregivers and care receivers can experience isolation, depression, anxiety, guilt, sadness, worry, irritability, frustration, anger, grief, and many other emotions.

When caregivers trade parts of their lives to care for elderly parents or a spouse, something—work, relationships, social lives—suffers.

Focusing on one thing or part of your life means being less attentive to another. This lack of focus on something previously important to you may make you feel like you are failing as a family caregiver.

Feeling Abandoned or Isolated

You may feel abandoned and alone if you are the person doing it all. Feeling alone may mean that you feel as if you are failing at your career, not paying enough attention to your marriage, or losing friends. In addition, your children may be struggling in school because you spend more time with aging parents than them.

Caregivers experiencing all of these emotions can get stuck when de-prioritizing their personal needs in favor of the needs of aging parents or a spouse. While a shift in focus is sometimes necessary for some time, setting a boundary to define the length of time you are willing to make tradeoffs will help you plan to reset your life and priorities.

3 Memory Loss or Cognitive Declines

Number three for failing as a family caregiver relates to loved ones diagnosed with memory loss or those who have shown telltale signs for years. If you are a child who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away from a parent and don’t see them frequently, it may not be as easy to identify memory gaps.

On the other hand, you may be an adult child who hears one parent complain about caring for the other. You live a thousand miles away and brush off the concerns thinking that your parent just wants to complain.

Then you visit and are shocked to see how serious the day-to-day situation is. If so, you might feel like you’ve failed to be a support for your healthy parent, who is the primary caregiver for your parent with health concerns, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.

If this is your situation, accept it and be proactive in creating a plan for what happens When your parent with memory loss or any health concern needs more help.

Becoming a Caregiver: How to Support Aging Parents and Maintain Your Sanity

To answer this concern, check out my online video course Stay at Home Becoming a Caregiver: How to Support Aging Parents and Maintain Your Sanity. The course takes you through the A to Z of caring for loved ones, including managing complicated family relationships and navigating the healthcare system.

4- Stress from Daily Life Outside of Being a Caregiver

Number four for failing as a family caregiver is the other outside stressors that I briefly mentioned. Work-related to the idea of reducing work hours, turning down promotions, the financial effect of paying for the care of aging parents on your life, less attention to family relationships, friendships, or your health.

One or all of these can survive a short time-out. But if put on the back burner for a long time, the feeling of failing as a family caregiver may be the result.

Family Caregiver Support and Resources

For more resources on tips to succeed as a caregiver if you are working, raising a family, and focusing on other life priorities, check out these Caring Generation podcast pages where you can listen, read or watch helpful information:

5 – Interfamily Relationships

Number five for failing as a family caregiver are interfamily issues. For example, a parent may disagree about steps needed for their daily care or the care for a sick spouse.

If you are an adult child, you may feel frustrated about a parent being in denial or refusing care. Complicated relationships with parents and siblings can make you feel like you are failing as a family caregiver.

It is not your responsibility to solve problems that others create if they are cognitively stable without a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or any type of memory or brain diagnosis. However, if memory loss is an issue, I believe that sons, daughters, or spouses must intervene.

The Challenges of a Memory Loss Diagnosis

If you suspect memory loss, you can avoid failing as a family caregiver by insisting a parent sees a doctor. Additionally, long before cognitive issues appear, suggest that aging parents complete their legal planning to appoint an agent to make medical and financial decisions.

Disagreements with Siblings

Disagreements with siblings can interfere with the primary caregiver doing their job. Your brothers or sisters might disagree with your actions or constantly tell you what to do even though they have no intention of stepping in to help.

It’s okay to set boundaries with unhelpful family members to avoid feeling like you are failing as a caregiver. If you are a caregiver who is an only child, you might wish that you had siblings to help you.

On the other hand, if you are the primary caregiver in a family of problem relatives who seem to cause you more problems than offer solutions, you may feel alone. Emotional challenges relating to family relationships in care situations can take on a life of their own, especially if the primary caregiver feels like no support is available. As that caregiver, you might be struggling day after day.

Caregiver Support Groups

I recommend finding a support group online or in person that is a good fit for you. While not all caregiver problems can be solved in the blink of an eye, sometimes just knowing that others are going through a similar situation can make you feel less isolated or alone. You might be surprised to meet other caregivers who are having similar experiences.

6 Navigating the Care System

Number six for failing as a family caregiver is finding the proper support, resources, and services to help the caregiver and person needing care. Navigating unfamiliar territory can feel intimidating, causing caregivers to worry about making mistakes.

Caregivers who feel supported can manage the ups and downs that result from taking care of sick parents or a spouse. There are many services available in the community, some at no charge.

Others are reimbursed by health insurance, and many are privately paid. Learning to navigate the healthcare system means doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, home health care, private caregivers, hospice, and insurance companies.

Then there is housing which means where a parent lives. So a private home, an apartment or a low-income community, independent living, assisted living, memory care community, or a nursing home. There is a lot to learn. Many caregivers struggle to find time to investigate available services or know what help they would like to have but aren’t sure how to find the service.

7 Support For Making Care Decisions

caregiver stressFollowing this line of thought, number seven for feeling like you are failing as a family caregiver is making care decisions.

Deciding about the care of aging parents or a spouse results in asking questions like how do I know when it’s time for an in-home caregiver, or time to move a parent, or time to talk to a doctor about X, Y, or Z, or time for palliative or hospice care?

Making care decisions can be complicated when you don’t have all of the facts or have the facts, but you can’t make heads or tails of the information you have in front of you. So if you are undecided or feeling overwhelmed, this may be time to consult a specialist in the area you are struggling with.

If so, go to my website, where you can learn about making an appointment for a telephone or video consultation. I help with many care decisions that families face.

In other situations, you may need to speak with an Elderlaw, probate or estate planning attorney, or a CPA or a financial planner for money matters. If the issue is health-related, there are medical specialists. For example, you may want to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist for advancing heart issues, an endocrinologist for diabetes or thyroid, or a neurologist or neuropsychologist for memory and neurologic conditions.

The Benefits of Seeing Medical Experts

Many older adults see the same doctor that they have seen for years. The challenge is that when people reach the age of 55 or 60, a geriatrician or an internal medicine physician may be a better choice.

Seeing a medical specialist when you are older is no different than having your child see a pediatrician. As the body ages, new age-related conditions occur.

Not all doctors have patience or compassion for middle-aged and older adults, especially if complicated health situations or memory loss exist. Geriatricians can be helpful if you have not taken an active role in managing your health and don’t know the questions to ask.

Getting the best medical care for all ages means that you take the initiative to be proactive about setting annual appointments and wellness checks. Also that you pay attention to nutrition, exercise, and engage in self-care activities.

As a caregiver, you see the effects of not doing these activities through the health issues your parents experience. If you want a different outcome for yourself, you have to make other choices.

Setting You and Your Loved One Up for Success

Not feeling like you are failing as a family caregiver means setting yourself and your loved one up for success. Instead of thinking or feeling like you are failing at everything, focus on the positives and what changes may be necessary to make care situations easier instead of more complicated.

While some of these changes may seem like more work, they can be time-saving and stress relieving. One example is hiring an in-home caregiver.

I know that some of you are saying my parent will refuse or we don’t have money to hire anyone. There are paths to respond to all of these objections.

You can learn how to present the situation and discuss options within the family, including understanding the consequences of not making any changes. Let’s look at the earlier example of a parent refusing medical advice and then having a heart attack and more problems getting around day to day.

What do you think might have happened if the physician said something like:

“Doris, you have high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other concerning health issues. I’d like you to stay as healthy and able as possible.

 Unfortunately, the medications I’m prescribing can only do so much. If you continue to smoke cigarettes, not exercise, eat junk food, and remain overweight, you have a heart attack or a stroke increase.

 This means that one of these events may result in you not being able to live by yourself. You may need care from your spouse or your children. Depending on the effects of the heart attack or the stroke, you may not be able to walk or do some of the things you do today.

 You may have to stop driving a car because of physical weakness, or you may experience memory loss. While I realize that these things seem like they won’t happen, they can.

 Today, many people living in nursing homes thought the same about their health conditions. Taking action to prevent a heart attack or stroke is better than experiencing this type of event. Are you willing to consider any of my recommendations, or do you want to take the risk that nothing will happen? “

In some cases, these conversations fall on deaf ears. If the person receiving the explanation has never seen anyone who is sick or who had a health and life-changing experience, they may refuse to believe it can happen to them.

One day, “it” will happen to all of us to one degree or another. But, the good news is that we have more control over our future health than we think.

8 Learning How to Advocate

Number eight related to failing as a family caregiver is learning how to advocate for care. Many older adults and their caregivers give up when getting care from a doctor’s office becomes difficult or when insurance companies decline prescriptions or treatments.

While these events may seem like brutal battles to fight, remember that you have to care more than anyone else and do more than anyone else to get the care you want and need.

No one else can do this for you. Also, it’s essential to understand that there are processes, rules, or regulations that are not easy for consumers as patients to understand.

For an example of this idea, listen to the Caring Generation podcast Episode 14, What is Assisted Living

Where I talk about legislation requiring the disclosure of financial relationships between assisted living communities and referral agencies.

It is essential to understand the financial relationships that organizations in the healthcare industry have in place. Many of these are not disclosed. Simply by signing a consent form, you may be agreeing to services you don’t understand.

Also, check out the Caring Generation podcast Episode 98 Healthcare Issues Faced by Caregivers

My suggestion to everyone, regardless of your age or the state of your health, is to learn about health prevention so that you can be healthier in later years, plan early for your aging and retirement years, especially how you will pay for care, who will care for you and where you will live.

If you do this, the likelihood of feeling like you are failing as a family caregiver will be lessened. Education and knowledge are essential to advocate for yourself and your loved ones.

family caregiver support programs

Looking For Help With Your Caregiving Situation? Learn More About Scheduling an Elder Care Consultation With Pamela D Wilson


©2022 Pamela D. Wilson All Rights Reserved

About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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