The Dos and Don’ts of Managing Caregiver Guilt

As working daughters, managing caregiver guilt is critical. Unfortunately, guilt is a common, perhaps inevitable, feeling among family caregivers.  We feel guilty that we aren’t doing enough for our family members. We feel guilty when we make time for ourselves and we feel guilty when we do not. We even feel guilty about our feelings. We feel guilty for many different reasons I outlined in my post the 15 Reasons Caregivers Feel Guilt And The One Way To Overcome It.

In order to manage caregiver guilt, there are 3 things we should do and three things we should stop doing.

3 Dos of Managing Caregiver Guilt

  1. Do show compassion. As caregivers, we show compassion for the people we care for. If only we could direct some of that love and kindness in our own direction. Remind yourself you are doing the best you can. Tell yourself that you are generous and supportive. Because you are, and you are doing the best you can. Now say it. “I am doing the best I can.” Say it again. Out loud.
  2. Do practice forgiveness. Why are you beating yourself up that you didn’t visit your father this weekend? If you didn’t see him because you were busy running the kids to soccer games and birthday parties and being a good parent, that’s forgivable isn’t it? If you didn’t visit him because you were exhausted after a trying and stressful week at work and needed some time to rest and recuperate, that’s forgivable isn’t it? If you didn’t visit him because sometimes it’s just too hard to deal with his dementia or grumpy disposition and you are just human after all, that’s forgivable isn’t it? I’ll answer that for you. It is.
  3. Do establish priorities. Guess what? You probably can’t give everything your all. So you need to make some choices. Where are you going to crush it and where are you going to cruise? I am great at logistics. My priorities as a caregiver are to make sure my father has food, shelter, clothes, medicine, and medical appointments as needed. I am not the person who calls him to chat every night. And that’s okay. I am doing the best I can and I forgive myself for not being talkative after 8 hours of work followed by dinner and homework help with the kids. (Did you see what I just did there? Compassion and forgiveness…)

3 Don’ts of Managing Caregiver Guilt

  1. Don’t think you can control the situation. If there is one thing caregiving teaches us, it is that we are not in control. We can’t control illness. We can’t control death. We can’t control how our siblings behave or how our parents feel. And no, despite, how much I try, we can’t control whether or not the doctor is running late. Therefore, we can’t take responsibility for any of those things. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we can manage some of that caregiver guilt.
  2. Don’t try to be perfect. Perfection is highly overrated. When we strive to be the perfect daughter, the perfect worker, the perfect wife and mother, we are setting ourselves up to fail because, see above: too much in life is out of our control. And you know what? No one, except for you, expects you to be perfect. Let it go.
  3. Don’t use the word “should.” Ever. When you start a sentence or a thought with, “I should,” that is an indicator that you have internalized someone else’s expectations and values. I should call my mother. I should work late. I should be able to handle all of this. Stop it! If you are going to manage caregiver guilt, you need to treat “should” like the inappropriate, impolite 4-letter word it is: SHUD.

For more on managing caregiver guilt:

15 Reasons Caregivers Feel Guilt And The One Way To Overcome It

What I Need You To Know About Caregiver Guilt

Strategies for Moving a Parent Into Senior Living

Coping With Caregiver Guilt During the Holidays



8 comments on “The Dos and Don’ts of Managing Caregiver Guilt”

  1. Carla Reply

    I love that you make time to point out not to use should. I’m a tremendous fan of Albert Ellis and his philosophy on MUSTurbation.
    Shedding the shoulds and musts and oughts has been transformative for me.

  2. Rena McDaniel Reply

    These are very true in my situation for sure, we always try to avoid telling mom she should remember something.

  3. Cathy Lawdanski Reply

    This is so good. I cared for both parents before they died last year. Cutting ourselves some slack is absolutely necessary if you are in for the long-haul. Thanks!

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