Why is Caregiving So Exhausting Even When You Love Your Parents?

By Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA

uncommon wisdomWhy is caregiving so exhausting even when you love your parents? I loved my parents and admit there were days when my patience in the role of caregiver ran thin. There were visits when I looked at my watch and thought of all of the other things on my list that I had to do before the day ended.

As a caregiver, you have similar experiences. You can easily empathize with other caregivers. Even when you love your parents, caregiving can be exhausting. Caregiving can also be gloriously rewarding. Is it possible to find a balance?

Here are five insights based on my experience as a family and a professional caregiver that answer the question: “why is caregiving so exhausting even when you love your parents? By looking at interactions a little differently, caregivers can become more successful at managing stress, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm. 

1 Family Interactions Require Extreme Patience

why is caregiving so exhaustingNo matter the age of the adult child, parents know the buttons to push and the words to say to set off emotional eruptions. Statements like, “you’re just like your father; you still haven’t learned, you’ve never been able to hold your temper.”

Create your own audio playlist of statements repeated by your parents, you probably know it by heart. Then work to change these negatives to positives. For example, “yes I’m just like my father he was a wonderful provider.”

The criticisms of others are often the criticisms they hold toward themselves. By learning to understand that the comments of others are more about them than you, allowing these statements to pass rather than stewing over them may become easier. 

Caring for aging parents requires unending patience, learned compassion, empathy, and being able to initiate difficult discussions without backing down. Caregivers continually learn new skills and do things they never thought they would ever have to do like changing adult diapers and helping aging parents bathe.

Caregiver stress levels increase related to the type of care provided for aging parents. Patience is a virtue. Caregivers want to fix everything now. Quick fixes are not always possible. 

“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” Joyce Meyer

Everything Takes More Time

Parents decide more slowly. They move more slowly and think more slowly. Plan for three to four times the amount of time you think is needed to complete a parent task. Plan for objections and hesitations. Few things happen quickly in aging parent time.

When adult children age, we will have the same experience as our parents of moving and thinking more slowly. Having patience, empathy, and compassion are skills that all caregivers can learn. Teaching these skills to young children will prove beneficial when they become future caregivers. 

Daily appreciation for the smallest things helps increase patience, empathy, and compassion. By caregiving for aging parents, adult children can make better life choices to avoid some of the challenges that are involved in the current caregiving situation. Becoming older and wiser is possible. 

“it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Epictetus

Laughter and Humor are Essential Caregiving Skills

I watched Carol Burnett receive an award at the Golden Globes. I know you’re wondering, how is this relevant?

Humor and laughter in caregiving make difficult days easier. Laughter helps caregivers pause for a moment. Caregiving does not always have to be so tense and serious!

My parents watched The Carol Burnett show on television when I was young. The humor was slapstick silly.

Watching Carol accept her award, I began to think of caregiving situations which made me find a clip from her show about “momma.” Watching the Momma on a Roll video led me to think of another program, the Jeffersons. Both videos have been inserted into this article.

When you watch the videos, you may smile. I believe that laughter and humor are necessary for caregiving. Caregiving humor helps caregivers maintain sanity on days when everything goes wrong. Humor can be found even the most serious situations if we look hard enough.

“The person who brings laughter into a room is indeed blessed.” Bennet Cerf

If you don’t know of Carol Burnett, the comedian, and actress—or if you do, this short video is worth watching. The skit is called “Moma on a Roll.”

Moma on a Roll

Interactions with brothers and sisters can have the same effect as conflict with aging parents. Childhood disagreements, favoritism, who got what, are never forgotten. These disagreements return to the center stage when adult children come together to care for aging parents.

Wasted energy is given to past events that cannot be changed. For the benefit of aging parents, learning to look beyond the past supports solutions. 

Pushing the Pause Button

The skill of pausing to respond when parents, brothers, and sisters push emotional buttons when insults are volleyed, and when we are offended is a wise tactic. Pausing allows the brain to catch up with the emotions.

Telling a parent that he or she is right—even though you may not believe they are right—can disarm a potentially disagreeable situation and avoid an argument. Saying “you’re right,” puts an end to baiting and potential disagreements.

You are not giving in, you are delaying, strategizing. Choosing the right time. The conversation can be re-visited on another day at a less emotional time when you are in a calm frame of mind to have the discussion.

Compassion and empathy are needed as the daily abilities of aging parents begin to fail. Aging parents require hands-on care from children that may be initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. When a parent can no longer bathe alone and requires assistance with incontinence, personal dignity is lost.

Roles change and adult children are caring for an 80-year-old parent who may be as helpless as a child because of memory loss or physical needs. How many caregivers wonder if this will be their future? Be kind at the moments when you feel the most impatient. 

“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” Eleanor Roosevelt

2 Aging Parents Want Adult Children to Be the Only Caregivers

You know you can’t do it all. You are wondering why you are so exhausted when you work full time, take care of your family, your aging parent, and try to maintain balance in life.

How many hours of sleep do you get each night? How much time do you have alone? How much time do you spend with friends?

Creating balance in caregiving is a challenge even for the most organized caregiver. Days pass quickly with the feeling that nothing was accomplished. Sometimes achieving balance takes saying “no”. Do you know if you are experiencing caregiver burnout?

There are times when having difficult conversations about looking elsewhere for caregiving assistance is not optional. Caregiving assistance for aging parents may be provided by friends, volunteers, or paid caregivers. There’s a good chance that bringing up the subject may result in objections from parents.

I Don’t Need Help

Aging parents will say, “I don’t need help, I don’t want strangers in the house, or why should I have to pay for a caregiver when I have you?”

Yes. You are free—as if there is no cost to your time or the emotional and physical stress you experience as the result of caregiving for your aging parent. The beliefs and refusals of parents to agree to a caregiver, other than you, is another reason why caregiving is so exhausting.

The honest truth is that aging parents want time and attention from adult children. Aging parents may realize that life is passing and not enough time was spent together. They may have beliefs that only family should provide care.

There are a million reasons why aging parents refuse outside caregivers. Research confirms that aging parents come to rely on caregivers outside the family as much as adult children. The family does not always have to bear the main responsibility of caregiving. 

Spend time with your parents that is enjoyable and memorable. If possible, let a caregiver cook, clean and do the task work.

I Don’t Want to Help

Rather than participate in an argument with an aging parent, adult children begin to have internal conversations. Aging parents have the right to say, “I don’t want help,” just as adult children have the right to say, “I don’t want to help.” 

How many times do caregivers dream of saying what they think? Yet they pause and think, but do not say.

“A different caregiver would be so much more patient with you than me. All I want to do is scream and run out the door every time I visit, and you start to complain. Your negativity drives me crazy. I don’t want to be a caregiver anymore.”

This statement represents the honesty in caregiving that parents do not want to hear and to which other family members–who judge but do not help– object. Open conversations about caregiving being a “2-way street,” about “50/50 responsibility” help bring balance to caregiving situations. 

Acknowledgment of the challenges of aging and being a caregiver supports working together instead of working at opposite ends. When a caregiver bears the majority of responsibilities and an aging parent is limited to help, the emotional and physical burdens of caregiving may become too much.

Benefits of Caregiving Support

Allowing caregivers to share honest feelings is the value of online support groups. In online support groups, caregivers are greeted by laughter from other caregivers in the same situation. Laughter comes from sharing experiences in common that may be exasperating. Caregivers learn from each other.

Interested? Curious? Join my private Facebook group for family caregivers, call The Caregiving Trap by clicking HERE.

At a recent meeting with caregivers, I asked a caregiver about the holidays. The caregiver looked at me and paused. I began to laugh before she spoke because I remembered that she spent the holidays with her mother.

We commiserated with the events of the visit including her mother’s request to run multiple errands on the morning of the day the caregiver was to drive 8 hours to return home. I suggested that her mother did not want her to leave and was manufacturing projects to delay her departure.

Laugh With Mother Jefferson

Here’s show clip from the Jeffersons that aired from 1975-85. This one features Mother Jefferson who always said what she thought, no matter the occasion. 

3 Why Taking Control is Less Frustrating Than Negotiating

In ideal caregiving situations, difficult conversations happen with aging parents to arrive at middle ground to agree about how to meet care needs. There are times when caregivers experience situations where parents become unreasonable and demanding. The door to agreement shuts. A stand-off occurs.

Why is caregiving so frustrating even when you love your parents? Stand-offs and refusals are another part of the reason.

It’s time to make decisions. You feel stuck. The health of your aging parent is declining, they refuse to agree upon solutions. Your stress levels are shooting off the charts. The time has come to make a choice.

Caregivers Don’t Have to Do It All

You can’t continue to do it all. Or you can choose to walk away. There are times when walking away is necessary to avoid situations from blowing up. 

When situations dead end, walking away, even if momentarily, is a strategy that I recommend. Feelings of frustration and anger that turn bitter are like a disease that spreads within the caregiver causing further emotional and physical damage. The stress from caregiving results in health issues for caregivers. 

Walking away from the care of an aging parent is like the time your parent sent you off to the first day of school. You may have been crying, kicking, and screaming but somehow it all worked out.

When an aging parent lacks appreciation for the support of adult children or refuses to discuss other care options, it’s time for a reality check. If you don’t show up to help for a week or two, what will happen? If you don’t take calls, what will happen?

Choices Have Consequences

Your parents are adults. They can choose to dig in their heels and refuse care. They can choose to make bad choices and experience the consequences. Caregivers can make similar choices. 

Will your parent miss you? Will they appreciate the help you have been providing? 

Will an event happen, like a fall, to force a move to assisted living which was the conversation your aging parent refused to have? Maybe your parent will start to do more when daily visits stop. Maybe not. 

Feeling guilty about being unable to satisfy an aging parent’s needs is not a solution. Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best. Hold on for a wild ride.

Sometimes setting a boundary is necessary to balance caregiving situations that have gone off track. Changing the dynamics of a situation allows everyone involved to gain a different perspective. When the heat of emotional situations cool off it is possible to think more clearly about solutions and options. 

A cooling off period allows a new start. Caregivers are able to re-set boundaries about participation levels. The expectations of aging parents can be discussed and new options provided that may involve outside caregivers or a move to assisted living. Caregivers don’t have to do it all. 

4 Time is Limited

Aging parents have little sense of time. They have been retired for years. When they did work, the workplace was very different than the workplace of today. Life was slower, less complicated, and the constant distraction of technology non-existent.

There is little understanding as to why adult children can’t spend every free hour helping a parent. Why is caregiving exhausting even when you love your parent? Unreasonable expectations about time is another reason.

Aging parents who may sit at home all day, wait for caregivers to do everything. Help from the caregiver becomes the focus of their lives. To the caregiver, an aging parent becomes a project or task to be managed or scheduled. One more thing added to an already long to-do list and a stress-filled life.

Tasks Take Longer Than Expected

If caregiving involved quick and easy tasks, the experience would be different. Long hold times happen when calling doctor offices, calls are disconnected by insurance companies when you’ve already been on hold for 30 minutes, long wait times occur at medical appointments.

Ever try calling Medicare or Social Security? I hope you have all day. Nothing is easy, simple, or quick. This is exactly the reason that aging parents need help.

Caregiving is time-consuming. Until discussions occur about how and who will provide care, the caregiver is trapped. If money is a concern, plans to access public programs must be initiated by the caregiver. There is never enough time in the day.

Time-pressured caregivers feel that there is no time to pursue caregiving support. Caregiving support is the one thing that will help with the question of why is caregiving exhausting even when you love your parents.

5 Non-Caregivers Don’t Understand (and Can Be Judgmental!)

Family and friends, who are not caregivers are unable to respond to the question, “why is caregiving exhausting even when you love your parents?” They are clueless.

Non-caregivers who don’t understand and industry professionals who lack compassion are exhausting for caregivers. Interacting with people who don’t understand, can’t, won’t, or who refuse to help is frustrating.

Non-caregivers repeat to caregivers that caregiving must be so rewarding, that caregivers should not be angry or impatient, that caregiving really can’t be that stressful, and repeat a long list of other statements so insensitive and inconsiderate make caregivers want to scream. This is similar to trying to comfort a person who has experienced a loss and not knowing the right thing to say.

If only non-caregivers would spend one week caring for an aging parent they would understand. Oh, they don’t have the time to help. No surprise. Non-caregivers want to remain on the outside untouched by caregiving as long as possible.

The humor about caregiving is that it’s nearly impossible to escape. One day, non-caregivers will live the day to day experience of being a caregiver along with the positives and negatives. 

Glorious Days of Caregiving Exist

I don’t want to make caregiving sound like a horrible experience. When caregiving is bad, it’s bad. As caregivers, we also experienced glorious days.

Days with aging parents that we will remember forever filled with love, laughter, and joy. Afternoons sitting on the back porch on a summer day that we wished would never end. Holiday gathering when family relationships were perfect.

Glorious days of looking through old photo albums and reminiscing about life events. Organizing closets filled with family memories like prom dresses and wedding gowns. Football games, fishing trips, family vacations, graduations, marriages, and spending time with grandchildren turn into wonderful memories. 

These are the memories that caregivers will treasure when mom or dad is gone. All of the other exhausting memories will fade into the past. Exhaustion will turn into times when we can laugh.

When others ask us the question of why is caregiving exhausting even when you love your parent—we’ll gladly share all the answers. And maybe, if you’re lucky, very lucky, we’ll ask how we can help.

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA is a national caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker who solves caregiving problems. Since 1999, she has been a direct service provider as a court-appointed guardian, power of attorney, and care manager. In response to the need for accessible, accurate, reliable, and trustworthy information Pamela offers online caregiving support and programming to solve caregiving problems, advance healthcare literacy, and promote self-advocacy. She collaborates with professionals in the areas of estate planning, elder law, and probate, financial planning, and healthcare to raise awareness of and sensitivity to family caregiving and healthcare issues.

© 2019 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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