Bursack: Not every child can be a long-term caregiver

In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says for some people, becoming a long-term, full-time helper wouldn't work.

Carol Bradley Bursack updated column sig for online 10-21-19.jpg
Carold Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
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Dear Carol: My mom is 79 and lives alone. We have long-lived genes in my family, so I expect her to be fine for quite a while. I love her very much and we have a good relationship, but I’m career-oriented, I live 600 miles away from her and I know that I couldn’t give up work to move back and take care of her. What angers me is that if I were a man people wouldn’t expect it, but as a woman, they just assume that will be my plan. I never married and have not wanted children. My career, the energy of my city and my colleagues are what keep me enthusiastic about life.

I feel like a terrible daughter because I’m not willing to quit work that I love, move from a city I love and sacrifice all to take care of my mom who could live to be 100. I will add that Mom doesn’t expect this of me as she’s very independent herself. I’m an only child and she’s always championed my career and is proud of me, but I still feel responsible and guilty. Am I a bad daughter? — BG.

Dear BG: You are not in any way a bad daughter. In fact, you sound like a smart, loving daughter with insight. You’re intuitive enough to acknowledge that becoming a long-term, full-time caregiver would not work for you. Acceptance of this fact without judgment will open your mind so that you can take the necessary steps that might work both for your peace of mind and the care that your mom will eventually need.

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If the legal work hasn’t already been done, that is the critical part now. Her legal papers should include a health care directive that assigns someone, most likely you, as the proxy for making health care decisions. She will also need to have a separate financial power of attorney drawn up, again likely with you as the person who can take over if/when she can’t handle her finances. An elder law attorney may also suggest other documents that she may need.


The next step is to include regular talks to explore your mom’s feelings about in-home care versus assisted living. If she wants to age in-place, have discussions about how she would do that. Don’t let these talks overtake your normal conversations, but make planning for her future an acceptable, ongoing topic.

The two of you might also consider having a joint consultation with an aging life specialist, often known as a geriatric care manager. This person would be your touchstone to set up services as they are needed. It’s important that your mother is comfortable with this person and trust is established.

By taking these steps, you are providing care that works best for your family circumstances. Your mom is proud of what you’ve accomplished and will likely be on board with this plan since she champions your career. Talking often and visiting as frequently as you can would likely be good for both of you.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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