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Published April 27, 2013, 11:35 PM

Minding Our Elders: Not every adult child can be a caregiver

DEAR CAROL: I feel guilty because I don’t want be a caregiver for my elderly mother. I’m an only child, and since my father died she’s come to rely on me more than she needs to.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: I feel guilty because I don’t want be a caregiver for my elderly mother. I’m an only child, and since my father died she’s come to rely on me more than she needs to.

She’s healthy and has plenty of money. She has friends, though she seems to prefer leaning on me.

She was controlling and emotionally abusive when I was growing up, so we don’t have a great relationship, but I’m willing to help her out, and naturally I am on call for emergencies. I just don’t want to become her sole caregiver.

The thought of taking on the responsibility of my mother at this stage of my life scares me. I think at the bottom of it all I’m afraid she’ll swallow me up. Am I horribly selfish? Amanda

DEAR AMANDA: Everyone’s personality is unique and circumstances differ. You needn’t judge yourself by a standard that may not apply to your situation. What you feel is natural, considering your past. Your mother was controlling when you were young and you’re glad to have escaped that. Some people have reservations like yours, but take up the caregiver challenge regardless of their feelings toward their elder. Others feel that they may not be very good at hands-on care for family members who in the past were abusive, and they are likely right. They do what they can and leave it at that.

You can still help your mother make decisions as she ages, but with your shared background and her personality she sounds like a prime candidate for independent or assisted living, depending on her physical and emotional needs. In such an environment, she’d have the social outlet that she seems to require and hopefully would depend less on you for that part of her life. With luck, you’d be able to keep tabs on her but still maintain your own independence.

Not every adult is capable of being a caregiver for his or her parents. One hopes that with all but those who have severely abusive backgrounds, the adult children will be able to extend a helping hand, even if it’s just to arrange care and act as an advocate. From your note, I think you’d do very well with this. You simply don’t want to assume the hands-on caregiver role, which is completely understandable.

Think through what kind of relationship you can have with your mom as she ages, considering your own needs. Your childhood was difficult, and your mother’s controlling personality may become even stronger with time, so you’ll likely need to find a way to detach from any manipulative behavior she exhibits. You may want to seek some short-term professional counseling to work though some of these issues.

You can still be her daughter without day to day caregiving. You’ll just need to take advantage of more paid help. Taking care of yourself is not wrong, it’s smart.

This article is written exclusively for The Forum.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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