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Surviving the Holidays as a Caregiver

5 Steps to Reduce Guilt about Your Loved One Not Attending Family Get-Togethers

The holidays bring up a myriad of feelings, especially when they involve caring for an aging, frail, loved one.

There are many logistical and emotional challenges involved in putting together family holiday gatherings. These are issues that occur for millions of families every time there’s a holiday. The collective amount of guilt, frustration, stress and tension that holidays stir up is enormous!

Some adult children or grandchildren want their frail loved ones to be able to participate, and when they can’t make that happen because of distance, time, physical/cognitive limitations or money, emotions run high. Some feel guilty because they don’t want to go through what it takes to have their loved ones attend these gatherings. It’s just too hard on them. When they do pull it off, they often feel stressed and resentful instead of warm and loving – and that causes even more guilt, anger and frustration, and not only with their loved one, but with other family members as well.

It’s hard to admit to “I wish we could just give ourselves a break this year and leave Dad home.” – at least not without fearing that we’ll look like a horrible, rejecting, and unloving child!

Guilt is appropriate when you have done or are doing something wrong. However, we sometimes feel guilty because we’re doing something that is different, and this triggers the belief that we’re doing something “wrong.”

When you feel strongly that you need to make a different choice, ask yourself:

  • Is it too much logistically, physically, emotionally, or cognitively to have your loved one attend a holiday celebration?
  • Is it too much for them?
  • Is it too much for you, emotionally, physically and/or logistically?
  • Is your guilt overwhelming?
  • Are you used to doing everything and haven’t allowed yourself to ask anyone else to pitch in to help?

It’s understandable that you feel uncomfortable; it’s a big change, and change is difficult and challenging…if not for you, then for those around you.

If the issue is that they would not be able to handle the event – it would be too physically exhausting, or they would not be fully cognizant of events or people, your feelings of guilt may be about more than simply not being able to have them attend. What pain might you be experiencing because you cannot make things better for them?

Whether it would be too hard on them, too much for you, or you’re concerned about what others will think, you need to look at the holiday gathering in terms of Your Desired Outcome.

If you need time off from caregiving, and to enjoy a family event without the added stress, you need to give yourself permission to have your needs met. Remember that YOU MATTER…and whether your loved one attends or not this year, there will be some uncomfortable feelings. You have to decide which discomfort you’re willing to deal with.

5 Steps to Release Holiday Guilt Around Your Loved One Not Attending A Family Party:

1And We Breathe! Step one is always to give yourself space so you can fully process what is going on, what your feelings are, and what your thoughts and reactions are to the situation.

2: What is Your Desired Outcome? Remember that it must A) be what you want, not what you don’t want, and B) it must be something over which you, yourself, have control.

3: Thank Everyone who asks about your absent loved ones for their thoughtfulness and consideration. Let them know you appreciate their concern, and that you, too, are missing those who couldn’t be there.

4: Do NOT Explain, Defend or Justify. A simple statement that “it just didn’t work for them to attend” is enough. Let them know you will share their good thoughts and love the next time you see the absent loved one(s). If your loved one is cognitively aware, you can lovingly suggest that they would love a call from family or friends.

5: Practice Gratitude. As you work through any conflicting feelings that arise, give yourself permission to enjoy the family gathering without the added responsibility, continue to acknowledge that you deserve this time off, and are allowed to feel grateful for this time.

If you’re feeling judged, or struggling with your decision, reach out for support and guidance…talk with a trusted friend, talk with your therapist, and/or find a caregivers’ support group (yes, they exist!)

I wish you ease, and I hope to help you reduce and even eliminate guilt as you learn to take as good care of yourself as you do of those you love.  And we breathe

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