I Don’t Want to Care for My Elderly Parents

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The Caring Generation® – Episode 123, February 2, 2022. On this episode caregiving expert, Pamela D Wilson shares insights into reasons caregivers offer when saying “I don’t want to care for my elderly parents.” What duty do adult children have to aging parents who didn’t plan for needing care? Guest Dr. Omri Gillath from the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas discusses his research about attachment behaviors and how childhood relationships with parents affect the way children approach relationships throughout life.

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I Don’t Want to Care for My Aging Parents

0:00:04.0 Announcer: Caregiving can sometimes feel like an impossible struggle. Caregivers may be torn between taking care of loved ones and trying to maintain balance in life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Caring Generation, with host Pamela D. Wilson, is here to focus on the conversation of caring. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in exactly the right place to share stories and learn tips and resources to help you and your loved ones. So now, please welcome the host of The Caring Generation, Pamela D. Wilson.

What Duty Do Adult Children Have to Care for Aging Parents?

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

0:00:38:14 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, speaker, consultant, and guardian of The Caring Generation. The Caring Generation focuses on the conversation of caring, giving us permission to talk about aging, the challenges of caregiving, and everything in between. It’s no surprise that needing care or becoming a caregiver changes everything. The Caring Generation is here to guide you along the journey to let you know that you’re not alone.

0:01:06:81 Pamela D Wilson: You are in exactly the right place to share stories, learn about caregiving programs and resources to help you and your loved ones plan for what’s ahead. Invite your aging parents, spouses, family, and friends to listen to the show. If you have a question or an idea for a future program, share your idea with me by responding to my social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Linked In.

0:01:40:33 Pamela D Wilson: Today, we are gaining insights into adult children caregivers who say, “I don’t want to care for my elderly parent and spouses who are struggling to care for a husband or wife and have similar feelings. Feelings of not wanting to be a caregiver for an aging parent or spouse arise from various situations. We are going to talk about time frames related to caregiving that affect the desire to continue performing caregiving responsibilities.

0:02:18:09 Pamela D Wilson: Many individuals assume that caring for another person is short-term. For example, when you have children, they become adults, move out of your house by the age of 18, and you become an empty nester who regains all of your free time. You may be surprised to learn that caregiving doesn’t always work out that way—spoiler alert.

0:02:47:14 Pamela D Wilson: You may be raising your children, caring for aging parents or grandparents, or your spouse all at the same time. Caregiving can go on for a lifetime. For you, it may never end. Then we have caregiving complications that result from relationship gaps or glitches that make children and spouses more adamant about saying I don’t want to care for my elderly parents or a spouse. These are valid feelings for many reasons.

0:32:26:17 Pamela D Wilson: Some parent-child relationships are unstable beginning in childhood and remain strained throughout life. Instability may arise from parents being emotionally unavailable, having substance abuse issues, being physically or verbally abusive, or dealing with health problems. The unsupportive parent is more likely to be the mother who is expected to be more nurturing and caring.

0:04:00:58 Pamela D Wilson: Fathers work and earn money to support the family and so they’re not as available from a time or emotional standpoint. So the expectations of children are different with fathers. On the other hand, some parents are too supportive of their children, making them overly dependent. These overly reliant children fail at living independently outside of the family home and may permanently become financially and emotionally dependent on aging parents.

0:04:36:68 Pamela D Wilson: As you might imagine—unless there is a medical reason like being developmentally disabled—siblings who moved out of the house and live independently may resent their parents and the brother or sister living in the family home. And then one step forward on the topic of I don’t want to care for my elderly parents are parents who don’t trust their children to care for them.

0:05:05:15 Pamela D Wilson: This concern by parents exists for three reasons. First, favoritism may exist among the children who care more for one parent or another. Second, relationship difficulties resulting from a lack of trust. And third, children who parents view to be irresponsible in their relationships, financial management, or managing daily life. So, as you can see, the reasons for I don’t want to care for my elderly parents is a wide-ranging subject.

0:05:42:05 Pamela D Wilson: Joining us in the second half of the program is Guest Dr. Omri Gillath from the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas to offer research about family relationships. He discusses attachment behaviors and how childhood relationships with parents affect how children approach relationships throughout life. These early beginnings about managing relationships carry forward to spousal relationships and relationships with children.

0:06:16:94 Pamela D Wilson: A little about Dr. Gillath. He is a full professor in the Department of Psychology and the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center at the University of Kansas. He has been the principal investigator on multiple grant-supported research projects. He has two books and authored numerous articles and book chapters on close relationships, attachment processes, social networks, AI, which is artificial intelligence, and the underlying mechanisms of social interactions.

0:06:50:68 Pamela D Wilson: His papers are published in prestigious outlets such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Computers in Human Behavior. I found him through a publication. It’s The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Couples and Family Relationships. I found him in Chapter 14, Attachment and Caregiving. I’ll post a link to the book and the chapter about Attachment and Caregiving in the show transcript. You might find it fascinating.

0:07:22:98 Pamela D Wilson: Before coming to the University of Kansas, where he presently teaches, Professor Gillath taught and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Davis. In addition, he holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Haifa University, Israel, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bar Ilan University, Israel.

0:07:44:52 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s return to I don’t want to care for my elderly parents by talking about helping. Before children identify with being called a caregiver, they start helping aging parents, which is an entry point to caregiving. Many children perform simple tasks like running an errand, picking up groceries or prescriptions, or taking mom or dad shopping.

0:08:10: 23 Pamela D Wilson: These are everyday activities that we do for ourselves, so we don’t see them as unusual or as an act of caregiving or being time-consuming. Until—the time involved becomes non-routine. If you live in the same town as your parents maybe you visit every Saturday or Sunday or a couple of times a month. Or maybe you call and talk to your parents once a week if you live afar. These small actions to keep in touch are your routine.

0:08:44:44 Pamela D Wilson: But, if one of your parents has health issues, the other healthy parent usually takes care of them. Or if a parent lives alone, they take care of themselves until they can’t. So, until something significant happens—and it will—adult children are not usually involved. Then, one day, there’s a phone call from mom or dad who expresses concern about health issues or what it takes to care for your sick parent.

0:09:14:65 Pamela D Wilson: Or the phone call about your parent who fell and is now at the hospital emergency room. Before COVID, being involved with the healthcare system to help or advocate for aging parents was difficult. Today it’s more complicated due to staffing shortages and COVID-related issues. You may find yourself in a position of choosing a nursing home for rehab or working with home health who provides physical and occupational therapy at home, or having to hire a privately paid in-home caregiver.

0:09:54:96 Pamela D Wilson:  So let me give you some statistics that may surprise you about nursing homes, also called rehab centers, skilled nursing homes, and long-term care facilities. And I want to use this as an example of the challenges that COVID presents day to day but also challenges that exist on an ongoing basis that you may run into. States establish minimum standards for nursing care staffing levels, staff-to-resident ratios, which means one staff to ten residents, for example.

0:10:39:64 Pamela D Wilson:  Or what’s called HPRD – hours per day of resident care. The State of Washington is one of several states that has established minimum standards for nursing homes. There is a long list of states who have not, and you may live in one of them. So it’s important to understand this because if your parent is not getting the care he or she needs in a nursing home, these standards or lack thereof could be part of the problem.

0:11:05:88 Pamela D Wilson:  And so the reason you’re seeing bad care could be a state issue that you could advocate for. If you want to learn more about the state of Washington’s standards, check out the link to this information in this week’s podcast transcript. If you’re on one of my podcast apps, or if you’re on my website, search for episode 123. The information is going to be somewhere in the first segment. So at this point, you may find yourself helping or managing healthcare for a parent or a spouse. And a doctor, nurse, or someone else may call you a caregiver.

0:11:48:04 Pamela D Wilson:  You think, wow, what’s that? If your parent’s health issues are minor, you may begin to have ongoing involvement, and so you are a caregiver. But at first, it may not be anything that requires a lot of your time. When a parent needs daily or weekly assistance, the time involvement by the caregiver grows to average 20, 30, or more hours each week. If you thought you were busy before, it’s a whole different world when parents or a spouse become dependent on the caregiver for ongoing needs.

0:12:23:09 Pamela D Wilson: This is the tipping point where discussing plans about caring for aging parents should happen, but they usually don’t because families don’t know to have these discussions. So instead, the caregiver keeps doing what they have been doing and adds more into an already overbooked schedule. This continued doing creates the expectation with the person receiving care—aging parents, a spouse, a grandparent—that the caregiver will continue to accept more work and more time responsibility.

0:13:04:58 Pamela D Wilson: While on the inside, the caregiver is thinking. I don’t like the way my life is going. I don’t want to care for my elderly parents or a spouse. Caregivers trade time and choose between priorities in the caregiver’s life. For example, a career, marriage, having children, pursuing an education, versus the growing and more time-consuming needs of an aging loved one.

0:13:32:18 Pamela D Wilson:  After the break, we will talk about a list of 10 reasons caregivers say I don’t want to care for my elderly parents or a spouse so everyone can better understand how caregiving goes from simply helping to feeling overwhelmed. This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Pay it forward to help others who may be dealing with health, aging, caregiving or family issues by sharing information about this show and my website pameladwilson.com. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


I don't want to care for my aging parents0:14:35:91 Pamela D Wilson:  Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on the Caring Generation. Tips, articles, videos, this podcast, my book The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes, online webinar courses about how to care for aging parents and caring for yourself are on my website at pameladwilson.com.

0:14:55:08 Pamela D Wilson:  If you are looking for help navigating the healthcare system, decision-making about care for elderly parents, or making a care plan for yourself, I can help. Visit my website PamelaDWilson.com and schedule an eldercare consultation. Click on How I Help, next Family Caregivers, and next Eldercare Consultation.

0:15:17:34 Pamela D Wilson:  Let’s begin with ten situations that caregivers describe when they say I don’t want to care for my elderly parents or a spouse. I want to clarify that the caregivers who say this have progressed to being in complicated family caregiving situations where relationship and communication challenges exist with parents or spouses. Many caregivers feel the opposite and will do whatever it takes to ensure elderly parents receive care.

0:15:49:16 Pamela D Wilson:  But, even the most loving caregivers become exhausted and burned out after 5, 10, 15, 20, or more years of continuous family caregiving. When you do things for everyone else and not for yourself, you can feel like you are living your life for everyone else but yourself. Which is why talking about caregiving and having an exit plan is important.

0:16:17:16 Pamela D Wilson:  When thinking of I don’t want to care for my elderly parents, what do you think might be the difference between caregivers who wish to care for elderly parents or a spouse versus those who don’t. Might it be the quality of the relationship and how each person has felt, or not felt, supported by the other? Number one in this list is what I call threats. Let’s begin with a single caregiver, son or daughter who has moved in with their aging parents or a grandparent to be a caregiver.

0:16:53:68 Pamela D Wilson:  The caregiver wants to take a weekend off to be with friends—a reasonable request. The response from the parent or the grandparent is, “if you leave, don’t bother coming back.”  If you’re the caregiver, how does that make you feel? Unappreciated, threatened that you won’t have a place to live if you leave, angry or resentful. Probably a little of all of the above.

0:17:23:31 Pamela D Wilson:  Take this as an early warning that your loved one may feel threatened you want a life of your own. Maybe afraid that you might come back or not come back, or wants total control over your life. Here’s the issue. You chose to place yourself in this situation. While you may have felt pressured to become the caregiver or thought living with a parent or grandparent would save you money, and you wouldn’t have to work, that choice may have put you into a situation where you are miserable.

0:17:57:87 Pamela D Wilson:  So you will have to choose between valuing your life and saying, I don’t want to care for my elderly parents, but here is a plan of how you can get care. That is—after you figure out how to move out on your own and research care options for your parent. If you moved back in with a parent, there was a time in your life when you moved out. What did you do, and how did you do it? Figure it out and do it again.

0:18:31:48 Pamela D Wilson:  Number two for I don’t want to care for my elderly parents—overcontrolling spouses. This is a spousal caregiver situation where one spouse is exhausted from caregiving responsibilities that have been going on for years. Unfortunately, there is no one else in the family who can help. No children. The caregiver spouse attempts to discuss options with the sick spouse, who refuses. Due to exhaustion, the caregiving spouse realizes that they aren’t doing a good job.

0:19:09:55 Pamela D Wilson:  If you are the sick spouse, I hope you’re listening. Do you realize what your refusals to talk about care are doing to your marriage? Maybe you don’t care. It’s also possible that the sick spouse has Alzheimer’s or dementia, and the healthy spouse will have to choose to bring in caregivers or move the spouse to a care community even if a husband or wife disagrees. Spousal care situations are difficult for so many reasons.

0:19:16:00 Pamela D Wilson:  If a wife stayed home to raise children, all of the family money may be in bank accounts in the husband’s name. I hope not, but this happens. This makes separating or getting a divorce more difficult for the wife. Then if children are in the picture, they can favor one parent over the other. A daughter or a son might make a parent feel guilty about moving the sick parent out of the home, not realizing what it’s like to be a full-time caregiver.

0:20:13:87 Pamela D Wilson:  If this is you—children, and you judge your parent’s situation, give your mom or dad a week off. First, send mom or dad on a week’s vacation. Second, live at your parent’s house and be the 24/7 caregiver for one week. Let’s see how you feel then about a sick parent’s refusal to cooperate with receiving care from someone other than family.

0:20:43:25 Pamela D Wilson:  Number three. Manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior, or other mental health issues none that are treatable by medication. This is another reason caregivers say, I don’t want to care for my elderly parents. This relates to aging parents and spouses who may be manipulative or contrary about their needs. For instance, one minute, mom or dad is not hungry. The next, they say that they’ve been waiting for hours for a meal because you have been ignoring them.

0:21:22:49 Pamela D Wilson:  Now, you’re feeling threatened because you’re doing everything you can, and a parent seems to be telling lies or accusing you of not doing a good job. Then there is manipulation. That jar of peanut butter dad told you he wanted. By golly, you purchased the wrong brand or the wrong type, chunky instead of smooth. The reasons for why I don’t want to care for my elderly parents are stacking up, aren’t they?

How to talk to a parent with dementia0:21:52:68 Pamela D Wilson:  Number four. Denial. Family members who see it as their job to question a parent with memory loss to try and help mom or dad remember. This is an area where education about dementia or Alzheimer’s can be helpful. If mom or dad has advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s, there will be more and more information that they cannot recall. Instead of becoming angry with a parent for not remembering, learn how to talk and interact with a loved one diagnosed with dementia.

0:22:29:80 Pamela D Wilson:  Accept that as much as you want them to be, mom or dad are no longer the parents who cared for you and comforted you. Avoid being in denial about the future. Be kind, compassionate, and empathetic. Teach your children—your parents’ grandchildren to act the same way. Young children can be negatively affected by not understanding the health issues of grandparents related to memory loss.

0:23:00:42 Pamela D Wilson:  They may think that grandma or grandpa are crazy, mean, or angry all the time. They may watch you interact with your parents and think that their grandparents don’t treat you well. All the time, the reason for the behaviors is the disease. These interactions significantly affect whether your children will one day be willing to care for you or say, no way. I don’t want to care for my elderly parents.

0:23:32:20 Pamela D Wilson:  The examples that you set for your children in all areas of life remain with them for years until they grow up and say, “hmmm, I like this about mom. I want to be more like her in this way. Or I don’t like that about dad. I’m never going to be like that.” How many of you think this way today about your parents? I have plenty of caregivers who say, don’t let me become like my parents.

0:24:03:97 Pamela  D Wilson:  We’re off to a break. If you are looking for help navigating the healthcare system, decision-making about care for elderly parents, or making a care plan for yourself, I can help. Visit my website PamelaDWilson.com and schedule an eldercare consultation. On the top bar on my website, click on How I Help, next Family Caregivers, and next Eldercare Consultation. You can also visit the caregiver support page on my website, pameladwilson.com, where you can sign up for my FREE caregiver library, check out my online courses, and my book The Caregiving Trap. I’m Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:25:11:15 Pamela D Wilson:  This is Pamela Wilson, caregiving expert, author, and speaker on The Caring Generation. If you are a working family caregiver, and your company does not currently offer support, resources, or educational programs for caregivers, it’s time to share my information with your human resources department and ask them to contact me. I provide on-site and virtual programs for corporations and groups interested in supporting caregivers.

0:25:37:68 Pamela D Wilson: If you want to see an example, visit my YouTube channel, PamelaDWilsonCaregivingExpert, where can click on the Live tab and watch one of my recent Livestream Caregiver Event videos. If you follow me on YouTube, you’ll receive advance notices about my monthly live caregiving events, and you can attend. Let’s return to more reasons that family caregivers cite for saying I don’t want to care for my elderly parent or spouse.

0:26:05:22 Pamela D Wilson: Number five is promises. Spousal caregivers who are caring for a spouse and an aging parent at the same time may be trying to do it, but they’re emotionally exhausted. If you are a caregiver in this situation, you might be struggling between making a promise to keep loved ones at home at the expense of your health and well-being. While caregivers have good intentions, there is no way to predict what will happen in the future.

0:26:36: 67 Pamela D Wilson:  My advice. If you are having a care conversation with a spouse or a parent and they say, promise me, you will keep me at home, or don’t put me in a nursing home, or I don’t want to live at that place. Stop for a moment. Instead of promising, ask the question, what do you want for your care, and what money exists to pay for care. Now, if it’s not a good time to have this discussion, then you can say this is an important discussion that we should schedule a time to have.

0:27:12:09 Pamela D Wilson:  Think about what you want for your care. Look at how much you can afford to pay for care after researching things like the cost of in-home care, assisted living, and nursing homes, and we can talk more. Put the work on your parent to investigate care costs if possible. The experience of learning about costs of care can be eye-opening.

0:27:41:07 Pamela D Wilson:  Too many caregivers burn the candle at both ends and end up having more health issues than the people for whom they care. Don’t put yourself in that position by making promises that you may not be able to keep. Or, if you are already there, it may be time to consider other options for care. The number six reason caregivers say I don’t want to care for my elderly parents is apathy. Because of a desire to be helpful, caregivers can do too much for a parent, making a parent overly dependent on the caregiver.

0:28:18:59 Pamela D Wilson:  When you make a parent dependent on you, they do less and less for themselves. Also, don’t make things easier if having your parent working on something is good. For example, if your parent sits all day and has difficulty walking around. Don’t rush out to buy one of those comfortable recliner lift chairs because you think it will help your parent get up out of a chair. Instead, take mom or dad to the doctor and get an order for physical therapy exercises.

0:28:57:09 Pamela D Wilson:  Don’t create more problems for yourself or a parent. The more physically inactive a person becomes, the more trouble they have participating in any type of physical activity like something as simple as walking a block. Walking two blocks, walking a mile. Here’s a simple example of how this happens. I go to the gym almost every day of the week to exercise. I love it. The gym is one of my many happy places.

0:29:26:86 Pamela D Wilson:  But let’s say there’s a day where I get off track for one reason or another. Bad weather, maybe I’m working late, I forgot to pack my gym socks, so I don’t make it to the gym. The next day I might think, well. I’ll take another day off. Then one day becomes two or three. All of a sudden, it’s been three days since I’ve been to the gym. That first day back to the gym is the hardest mentally and physically because I have to get back into a routine, and my body knows it.

0:29:58:75 Pamela D Wilson:  So the best thing for everyone is to establish and maintain healthy routines. Don’t let your body get physically weak. That’s a recipe for falls and broken bones and nursing home placement if you are an older adult. Keep your mind sharp. Read, play games or puzzles, engage in a hobby. Socialize or learn a new skill. This is where apathy and not caring about anything kicks in if you don’t.

0:30:30:73 Pamela D Wilson:  You don’t take a shower and get dressed one day. Suddenly, it’s noon, and you’re still in your pajamas. You think, why get dressed? No one is coming to visit. Not getting dressed becomes a habit day after day. Find a reason to shower, get dressed, put your makeup on, shave and get out of the house, even if it’s only to walk around the block. Start caring more about your appearance and your health.

0:31:01:99 Pamela D Wilson:  Work with, instead of against, your caregiver on the things that can make a positive difference in your life. If you’re a caregiver, work on things that can make your life happier and more pleasant. Caregivers who do everything to care for loved ones also become apathetic, although they don’t see it that way. For example, caregivers don’t take showers, they miss meals, and fail to exercise. Why is it okay for caregivers not to do things they tell their parents or spouses to do? Well, it’s not.

0:31:39:97 Pamela D Wilson:  Talking about the importance of self-care is an exit plan for caregivers. For example, “mom or dad, it’s essential for you to exercise every day and eat good meals. I won’t be coming over this evening because I am going to the gym to exercise and then make dinner for my family and me. If you want a good meal every day, we may want to look at delivery options or hire a caregiver to cook for you. Or maybe it’s time to investigate a care home, so there is someone available 24/7 to help you.”

0:32:16:13 Pamela D Wilson:  Wow. There is nothing wrong with making your needs known. However, I know some of you feel guilty if you say no. Guilt is an inside job that is all in the way you choose to think. Instead, look at your actions or non-actions for self-care as being apathetic, which means that you don’t care enough about yourself to take care of yourself.

0:32:39:04 Pamela D Wilson:  You could probably say the same thing about an aging parent or a spouse, right? Admitting that you are apathetic may also make you feel guilty, but at least your guilt is focused on you and not an aging parent or a spouse. Number seven caregiving in one household. Married children caring for parents and raising children. All of these people, plus animals, in the same household, can feel like a powder keg waiting to explode.

0:33:09:60 Pamela D Wilson:  Your mother-in-law or father-in-law may be critical of your children or things you do. Depending on whose parents are living in the household, one spouse may feel neglected. And, then there is little or no privacy or taking a break from the caregiving situation. Can you imagine having to leave your own house to get some time to yourself? I know caregivers who will take a drive to get away and then take a nap in their car because they’re exhausted.

0:33:40: 11 Pamela D Wilson:  It should not be that way> But I know it is for many caregiving families in this situation who are thinking I don’t want to care for my elderly parents. Number eight follows caregiving in one household. It’s the idea of regret. Caregivers will say, I know the moment my parents moved into our house that we did the wrong thing, but it was too late. Or I know when I said that I was going to regret it.

0:34:10:57 Pamela D Wilson:  In stressful situations, it’s easy to make mistakes or say words that we regret because we may be angry or not feel heard. And then we backtrack and apologize. In caregiving, if you can set a ground rule that says. I agree to do this thing today. I reserve the right to change my mind if this thing doesn’t work out the way I expect. If this happens, mom or dad, I will let you know, and we will figure out Plan B., Which you may not like or not feel is fair, but at a minimum, you will have an option for caregiver support or help that is not me.

0:34:56:20 Pamela D Wilson: We’re off to a break. Up next, Dr. Omri Gillath talks about attachment theory. We form relationships with our parents when young. Learn how relationships with our parents can affect all other relationships in our lives. After the interview with Dr. Gillath, we will wrap up with the number 9 and 10 challenges that caregivers tell me they face when caring for elderly parents and suggestions for what you can do.

I don't want to care for aging parents0:35:23:63 Pamela D Wilson:  Thank you for following and communicating with me on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, and YouTube, where I have hundreds of videos responding to caregivers who ask questions and provide thoughts for topics for this podcast, videos, my Livestream caregiver events and articles on my website. I’m Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Stay with me. I’ll be right back.


0:36:17:65 Pamela D Wilson:  This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. Are there days when you wish you had someone to talk to, someone to reaffirm that you are doing the right things? You’re in the right place with me and all our listeners here on The Caring Generation. I’d like you to meet Dr. Omri Gillath.

0:36:36:88 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Gillath, thank you so much for being here today.

0:36:39:77 Dr. Omri Gillath: Sure, my pleasure

0:36:42:58 Pamela D Wilson: I found you through your research about attachment theory. Can you describe attachment theory?

0:36:48:19 Dr. Omri Gillath: So, attachment theory is a framework for understanding emotional bonds. Bolby the creator of Attachment Theory, was trying to explain why we see such impact for rejection and separation between children and their parents. So, attachment theory which is summarized in three volumes, is talking a lot about separation and loss and understanding how emotional bonds are being created. And the idea is that the kind of relationship interactions you have with caregivers shapes the type of relationship style—attachment style that you have.

0:37:35:90 Dr. Omri Gillath:  So, if you have parents and caregivers that are very sensitive and responsive, you’re like to end up being secure. If you have parents that are more cold and rejecting, you are more likely to be avoidant. And if you are having, a caregiver is or parents that are more inconsistent or intrusive, you are more likely to be anxious in your attachment style. Attachment style is the way that we think, feel, and behave in our close relationships.

0:38:12:35 Pamela D Wilson. Can you describe the difference between, say, maybe a secure attachment and one that’s insecure or anxious?

0:38:21:26 Dr. Omri Gillath: Sure. So, someone who is secure feels satisfied in their relationships. Have no issues with other people being close to them and dependent on them and vice versa being dependent on other people. And usually don’t have any issues with separations or rejection. Whereas insecure people have this very strong anxiety surrounding issues of rejection and separation.

0:38:54:30 Dr. Omri Gillath: For example, people who are high on attachment or anxiety tend to be worried all the time that they love their partners more than their partners love them. And that their partner is not going to be there for them when they need them. And they’re preoccupied with thoughts about thoughts about separation and so on. Avoidant people, on the other hand, while also experiencing the same anxiety, tend to try and get rid of it. So, they would suppress it. They try to avoid thinking about it. Avoid feeling it and so on and so forth.

0:39:32:21 Pamela D Wilson: Can you describe how attachment and caregiving are related and maybe give two examples. Maybe give an example of parents who have children—because they are caregivers for those children and then another example.

0:39:44:23 Dr. Omri Gillath: Sure, so the idea, according to Bolby is that you have different behavioral systems. Attachment is one of them. And then other behavioral systems might be caregiving, sex, exploration, affiliation, and so on. And your attachment style, how safe and secure you feel in your relationships is affecting the functioning of other behavioral systems. So, and specifically with attachment and caregiving, this is interesting because it works both ways.

0:40:22:46 Dr. Omri Gillath So, on the one hand, the kind of care or caregiving that you got from your caregivers or your parents is shaping your attachment style. And then, in turn, your attachment style might be shaping the kind of caregiving that you will give to others. So, if you’re secure, it’s easy for you to provide care. Whenever something bad happens, you’re not immediately focused on the self or inside and what’s going to happen to you.

0:40:48:79 Dr. Omri Gillath But you can actually work toward trying elevating the suffering and pain of someone else. If you are insecure, on the other hand, and someone else is coming to you with a request for help, you might see that as a threat and have issues with providing the help, or you may not even see the need for help or the request for help.

0:41:11:51 So it kind of sounds like caregiving, or caregiving styles or maybe just relationships are kind of passed down from parents to their children, and then adult children pass them down to their children.

0:41:25:55 Dr. Omri Gillath: Well, there is something to that. There is definitely some sort of a genetic component. So, people with specific genes are more likely to develop a certain attachment style. It’s not only the kind of interaction that you had. And there are studies showing that there is a generational transformation of attachment styles, so one study shows the connection between grandmothers, mothers, and their daughters all with the same type of attachment style. But it doesn’t have to be because we have many relationships in our lives.

0:41:58:33 Dr. Omri Gillath: And the fact, for example, that we maybe feel anxious with our mom doesn’t mean that we can’t feel secure with our dad. Or that if we feel insecure with our parents, we maybe feel secure with our romantic partner or best friend. So, attachment style, you know the general style, is this integration or summation of all of these interactions with everyone. So, it might be the case that if your parents were insecure, you be insecure, but it doesn’t have to be.

0:42:29:67 Pamela D Wilson: So you made an interesting point. So, I work with a lot of caregivers, and some children are very willing to care for their parents. Some like their mother better than their father. And so, how does that kind of work in this whole attachment relationship with parents. Is it that a father could have a totally different relationship with children, and that’s why may be the kids would want to care for him and not the mother?

0:42:50:98 Dr. Omri Gillath: Yes, there is a lot of research about that. It’s interesting. So, for example, Cohen and Cohen, who were a couple of researchers from Berkeley they, look at the contribution of mother and father as parents, and they showed that the mother is affecting more the life of the children and how they evolve and develop, but the father is affecting the mother. So, the father is providing support to the mother, and if she gets the support, she can provide the support to the kids.

0:43:22:28 Dr. Omri Gillath: With an attachment, it’s often the case that when we see people, we ask who are their attachment figures. And we often see their mother being as number one until she is replaced with a spouse. But yet, you can definitely feel very differently about your dad and your mom. Fathers are often more about innovation and exploration and going out there and playing and having fun. Whereas mothers would be more connected to support.

0:43:56:38 Dr. Omri Gillath: So, if you think about the functions of attachment, there start to be functions to what the way the attachment system is working. And I’ll try not to use too much jargon here. But the two main functions are secure base and safe haven. So, a secure base is a base from which you can go out and explore. This is Bolby’s use of military terms so that you have a base.

0:44:19:13 Dr. Omri Gillath:  You know it’s safe, and then you can go out and see what else is out there. This is kind of like what dads might be doing. Whereas safe haven is the place, you come back to when you’re feeling down. So that’s more like what the mother might be doing when you need to deal with emotional regulation and soothe yourself or get some help from others. That’s what the traditional mother, you know, role might be.

0:44:43:19 Pamela D Wilson:  That’s a great description. Because my mom was more like you say, more of the person—the practical person. My dad would take me fishing. You know he would take me out of the house to do things, so I totally get what you’re saying. How do more secure individuals approach caregiving with parents or grandparents, or other people?

0:45:03:65 Dr. Omri Gillath: We have some work on that. And usually, when people are secure, they actually approach it. So, they go toward the problem, and they focus on the problem, and they try to find solutions, and they provide the support and the care, and they usually listen very well and be sensitive to needs. And they can balance on the one hand the autonomy that the other person needs, right? To do whatever they want and how they want it with the help they can provide.

0:45:39:61 Dr. Omri Gillath: So, whether this is a parent when you have kids or whether this is when you parents get old, and you need to take care of them. It’s always a fine balance between leaving them the room to do what they want but still providing the help when it’s needed. So, it’s a challenge that secure people are better equipped of taking care because they’re not overwhelmed by their own anxieties and fears.

0:46:06:69 Pamela D Wilson: That’s a great point. So, I have caregiving families where one child usually becomes the caregiver, and sometimes the other siblings will say, “I can’t do that, or I don’t want to do that.” So, is that kind of the avoidant part of this dynamic?

0:46:20:65 Dr. Omri Gillath: Yes, and you have to remember that people bring with them a lot of baggage, so we often hear stories. You know, my dad just passed away recently away, and we sat around in the Shiva and heard stories about his childhood and his dad. My grandparent. And you learn so many things which make sense suddenly why we behave in the way that we are. So definitely saying, you know, “I can’t deal with that,” or not dealing with it, or just you know, going far away, might be your attempt to avoid that and to find a way to cope with these emotional burdens.

0:47:01:58 Dr. Omri Gillath: But, sometimes it’s just how life hits you. So, it’s not necessarily the case that you are an avoidant person if this is what you’re doing. And everything we say means that this is an appropriate reflection of who we are. Because sometimes, we’re not even aware of what’s going on. Sometimes processes are happening at a subliminal or implicit level that we’re not aware of them.

0:47:27:97 Pamela D Wilson: And so, parents today, if they want to have their children care for them when they’re older, how can they establish those good relationships with their children when they’re young?

0:47:39:49 Dr. Omri Gillath: That’s a great question. I have two kids of my own, and I often think about it. And I think again that this is about balance and about respect and open lines of communication and trying to be there for them when they need it. Which again, can be hard for parents because you also need to put boundaries and set the rules.

0:48:04:10 Dr. Omri Gillath: Because you’re educating them. You’re not just being there for them when they need it. But you say you know you can’t play on your phone 24/7 or you can’t have more screen time. You need to focus on your homework and stuff like that. So you need to find a way that they will grow up respecting you in the same way you respect them and be open with you and have this emotional bond.

0:48:32:00 Pamela D Wilson: And let’s look at the opposite. Let’s say that maybe a parent didn’t have, form these good attachments with the children when they were young. And maybe the parents had alcohol abuse or something else, and now these kids are older, and their parents are older. And the kids are saying, “Ah, my mom wants me to take care of her.” How do they—or how do you work through that, or can you?

0:48:52:19 Dr. Omri Gillath: Yes, it’s hard. I think you need to try and figure out what’s at the bottom of it. So Sue Johnson, who is a Canadian therapist, who wrote about therapy and attachment. Talks about finding the attachment injuries. To try and figure out what happened back there in childhood that might have led to the kind of relationship you have right now. And obviously, if the child says, “I don’t want to do it, or I can’t do it,” you need to figure out why. And if there is anything that can be done to change it.

0:49:28:56 Dr. Omri Gillath: Maybe the relationship is so ruined and toxic that it’s better for everyone not to do it and sometimes maybe find a different solution. But Bolby thought that the attachment system can change over time and throughout life. And if you can have more positive interactions and maybe work through therapy or get the help of a friend or your partner, that can help you overcome some of these insecurities and anxieties and help you deal with the relationship. And again, keeping in mind that it’s not going to change in a day or a week. It’s going to be a process.

0:50:09:68 Pamela D Wilson:  Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your research, maybe that I haven’t asked you?

0:50:13:90 Dr. Omri Gillath: Yes, I think one thing that we’re trying to look at in our research is called priming and the way to change how people think about it. So we ask how can we change people. How can we change relationships., One of the things that we try to do in the lab we came up with an app. Everyone today has their own app.

0:50:32:48 Dr. Omri Gillath: So it basically allows you to work on your attachment style, and it’s something that we’re just now starting to do with students and a little bit with the general public. But I’m hopeful that we can help people change their attachment styles for the better and become more secure. And through that, you know, make the world a better place. So there is hope, and even if you had bad relationships, it’s not—you’re not doomed in a way.

0:51:03:15 Pamela D Wilson: Is there a way that listeners of the show can get access to that app, or is it in testing still?

0:51:08:04 Pamela D Wilson: They can just put my name in the app store or Google play, whatever, and that should come up with the app.

0:51:16:13 Okay, so give your name Dr. Gillath (chuckle)

0:51:16:15 Dr. Omri Gillath Yes, so just put my last name G-I-L-L-A-T-H, and you should come up with that. It’s still a beta. Nut you can play around with it, and there are games that can help you with that. And if you want a little more, there is a Ted Talk that you can listen to and so on.

0:51:37:39 Pamela D Wilson: Wonderful. I thank you so much for your time for this interview.

0:51:39:58 Dr. Omri Gillath: Absolutely. My pleasure.

0:51:41:38 Pamela D Wilson:  I will post links to Dr. Gillath’s information and the podcast app in this show. It’s episode 123.  This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation, available worldwide on your favorite music and podcast apps. Listen and follow the program for proven, reliable tips, information, resources, and research about caregiving, aging, health, and everything in between. Add the podcast app to the cellphones and computers of family members and aging parents.

0:52:12:82 Pamela D Wilson:  You can listen to The Caring Generation on: Apple, Google, I Heart Radio, JioSaavn, Spreaker, Amazon Music, Breaker, Deezer, Listen Notes, Pandora, Player FM, Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Stitcher, Spotify, Tune In, and Vurbl. We’re off to a break. This is Pamela D Wison on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:53:05:23 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Please share this podcast, my website pameladwilson.com, my online caregiver support programs that include my group on Facebook called The Caregiving Trap, my online caregiver courses, library, blog, my book also named the Caregiving Trap, and information about my 1:1 telephone or video consultations with people you know who are looking for hope, help, and support.

0:53:31:68 Pamela D Wilson:  Let’s finish with #9 and #10, for I don’t want to care for my elderly parents or a spouse. Nine is very honest. Caregivers say, “I’ve never had a good relationship with my parents—for whatever reason, and I know that I won’t be a compassionate caregiver or competent caregiver. Forcing myself to be something I am not, a caregiver for a parent I don’t like, is the wrong thing to do.

0:53:57:31 Pamela D Wilson:  If this is you, congratulations on recognizing that caregiving is not for you. There are many individuals who feel pressured by family members who say – oh, you are unwilling to care for your parent, as if to guilt you into saying yes. Unfortunately, some caregivers do say yes. The result is an abusive or self-destructive caregiving situation. Avoid that if you can by being honest. Number ten for I don’t want to care for my elderly parents is that my brothers or sisters said no.

0:54:29:27 Pamela D Wilson:  Why shouldn’t I go on with my life as they did? That is a great question. There may be a lesson here for you. If you are in a relationship caring for elderly parents—or any relationship for that matter—why are you in or out? People stay in relationships because of fear. Fear of being alone, especially if you live with an elderly parent or a spouse. Fear of believing you can’t find another person who will love you if you are in a partner or spouse relationship.

0:55:05:89 Pamela D Wilson:  Fear of being judged by family members for walking away. If you are watching your brothers and sisters go on with their lives, are you wishing you could do the same, or are you judging them for not being caregivers for you parent? On the other hand, you may be afraid to create an exit plan because you fear of losing the safety and security you have, even though you can probably recreate that elsewhere.

0:55:32:69 Pamela D Wilson:  Maybe you’ve been stuck so long that you don’t know where to go or what to do. Have you given up friends and the support system you had before you became a caregiver? This may sound crazier, but you may stay in a caregiving relationship because you are used to chaos, drama, toxicity, and feeling miserable. This has become your new normal. Until you begin to think that happiness is out there—and you can have it— you may never leave.

0:56:16:20 Pamela D Wilson:  In another podcast, my I talk about caretaking versus caregiving. If you are stuck in a caregiving relationship and don’t know the difference, you may be a caretaker. Another reason you stay is that “this is just what families do.” Do you know couples who stay together for “their children’s sake” and then divorce after the children are grown up and out of the house? And maybe you stay because you’ve simply given up hope.

0:56:35:40 Pamela D Wilson:  I’m not here to judge or to tell you what to do. The purpose of this show is to shed light on the situations that trap caregivers and how difficult it can be to change longstanding patterns, routines, and behaviors. Change for ourselves and others is not easy. Even still, I’m confident that you can find the right support to make the decisions you need to make. Be proud of the fact that you found your way here.

0:57:07:13 Pamela D Wilson:  Many people find hope and support right before they’re about to give up. Some angel shows up out of the blue to share a little bit of kindness and a little bit of hope. For everyone here, I hope that you find the answers you seek. Someone to help you along the path. To let you know that you’re not alone. You’re in the right place here with me and listeners of The Caring Generation.

caregiver support0:53:00:10 Pamela D Wilson:  Follow me on my Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and YouTube pages so that you can join me each month for my Livestream caregiver event.  If you are an aging adult or a caregiver not sure what to do or how to plan for care, or how to get your time and your life back, my website PamelaDWilson.com where you’ll find resources for caregivers. Check out my caregiving library, my Caring for Aging Parents blog, listen to all of The Caring Generation podcasts, read the show transcripts that include links to research by program guests, and check out my online caregiver courses in webinar format.

0:58:11:09 Pamela D Wilson:  The courses are like binge-watching your favorite television show. can also watch hundreds of videos on my Facebook and YouTube channels. There’s something for everyone here on The Caring Generation and on my website PamelaDWilson.com. This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Love to everyone. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and pleasant journeys until we are here together again.

0:58:42:94 Announcer: Tune in each week for The Caring Generation with host Pamela D Wilson. Come join the conversation and see how Pamela can provide solutions and peace of mind for everyone here on Pamela D Wilson’s The Caring Generation.

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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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