Caregiver Guilt During the Holidays

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If life were like flying, in the event of a change in pressure, an oxygen mask would automatically appear in front of you. But alas, here on the ground we need to remember to reach for our own oxygen masks when life is overwhelming.

Pressure absolutely changes during the holidays. Our already busy lives get busier with shopping, cooking, cleaning, wrapping, entertaining and traveling. And beyond time and task related pressure, there is pressure to make the holidays perfect for ourselves, for our immediate families, and for the family members we care for. And that’s where the pressure really intensifies.

Do we bring our elderly parents home for the holidays, or do we celebrate at the assisted living facility? Do we cook a full turkey dinner, or have the holiday meal catered? Do we hold the annual cookie swap our mother began years ago, or start a new, less labor-intensive tradition? What’s best for our parents? What’s best for our kids?

Wait a minute! What’s best for us?

In the air, we are reminded that if we are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, we should secure our own mask first, and then assist the other person. Well many of us are traveling with both children and an older family member, all of whom need assistance.

“Right, so how do we take care of ourselves while taking care of everyone else – especially during this time of year and without feeling selfish?” Good question. Remember, the airlines have perfected this safety thing. They instruct you to secure your own mask first for a really good reason. We cannot take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves. Rather than feel selfish about putting your needs first, think how selfish it would be if you didn’t. If you get sick, if you collapse with exhaustion, if you are grumpy as hell at the family holiday party, you are doing a disservice to all of the people you claim to care for. Care for them, by caring for you. Everyone will be better off.

“Yeah but, how do I find the time,” you might ask. You don’t; there are only 24 hours in a day and you have 28 hours worth of things to do. So you can’t find the time, you’re right. You have to choose to make the time. If you choose, for example, to spend 30 minutes every morning enjoying your coffee and talking with your spouse, you may not have time to buy that last gift. So what? If you choose to hit the gym or the running trail every morning, you might not have time to cook. So what? Seriously, so what? There’s take out, cereal, family members who can fend for themselves. On the flip side, if you don’t choose to put your marriage or your mental and physical health first, then what? What good will you be to anyone?

“Okay, so maybe I can take better care of myself but what about the guilt? What about the pressure to make the holidays perfect?” This is the hardest part, but you can handle it. Look at all you’ve accomplished already this year. For every decision and situation you are wrestling with, run a simple cost/benefit analysis. For example, if you are wrestling with bringing your aging parent home for the holidays, a cost/benefit analysis might look like this:

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Notice, there is nothing on this analysis about what other people might think about your decision. No one else walks in your shoes all year. A big part of caring for yourself is making your own decisions based on your own thoughts and feelings. I told you this would be the hardest part. But I know you can do it.

Pull the mask toward you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.

Putting your own needs first, might feel worse before it feels better. Give it time. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask.

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2 comments on “Caregiver Guilt During the Holidays”

  1. Carla Reply

    I joke I’m probably too good at this 🙂 but I’m not really jesting all. It took me 46 years you learned that if I don’t take care of myself first I am no use to anybody else. But I have finally learned.

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