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Abused adult children may not be suited for caregiver role

Carol Bradley Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: When I was born my mother was single and hooked on drugs. She kept me with her, but she abused me physically and emotionally. My grandma gained custody of me when I was 5 years old and she raised me. Grandma died two years ago and now my mother, who has wrecked her health and is in a nursing home, has decided that I should take her to my home to care for her. I don't hate her, but I really can't forgive her, and I can't take care of her anyway. She is my mother so I do feel guilty. I have followed your work and you have addressed similar situations, but I need to hear this as meant for me. What is my duty in this situation?— AE

Dear AE: I'm so sorry that you had such a difficult childhood and, like so many, you continue to experience fallout from it. Because you've read some of my other work, you know that there is no need for you to feel guilty about not taking on the caregiving role. In fact, taking over the care of your mother wouldn't likely be good for either of you.

Since your mother is in a nursing home she is being cared for. If you can visit her occasionally, that would be good. The reason that I suggest visiting when you can is for your benefit more than hers. I don't want to see you live with regrets after she is gone, even if there is no basis for those regrets. If you can make the effort to develop some kind of relationship with your mother you may be sparing yourself future (unearned) guilt.

It's understandable that you haven't reached a point where you can forgive your mother, but I hope that you are receiving ongoing counseling to help you move toward that point. Forgiveness isn't for your mother's benefit, but yours.

This is about the burden that you carry. It's been said that carrying resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die from it. This is a truth that is attributed to multitudes of people and organizations so accurate attribution is nearly impossible, but it is a solid truth. You, far more than your mother, are the one being harmed by carrying the burden of resentment.

Forgiveness doesn't mean that you will forget her abuse. It simply means that you are willing to move on rather than stay stuck in the past.

Be firm with your mother about the fact that, for many reasons, you cannot take her home to live with you. She needs to drop that idea completely. Tell her you'll visit when you can, as you can.

If you are not currently in counseling, it would be good to have professional support while you go through this hard time. Do not, under any circumstances, accept guilt for this situation. That burden is not yours to carry. Blessings. I wish you well.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at