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How to Deal with the Guilt of Putting Your Parent in a Nursing Home

How to Deal with the Guilt of Putting Your Parent in a Nursing Home

There’s no doubt that wrangling with the decision over the most suitable care for your parent can feel like a mammoth task: one in which there are no winners.

The result of this decision often leaves you with a hefty dose of guilt. While outsiders can easily see the logic of the situation, and therefore often see it as a clear cut decision, you feel the emotion.

It’s difficult to pull out the different contributing factors and to assuage the guilt. However, as we’ve learned from our experience of countless adult children dealing with the guilt of putting a parent in a nursing home at our nursing homes in Somerset, there are ways to manage the guilt effectively and come to feel content with your decision.

The Psychology of Guilt

At our nursing homes, we tend to see the decision to move an elderly relative into care coming on the back of an exhausted adult child.

The generation who are caring for today’s elderly at home and within the family are often retired or nearing retirement themselves. Or managing a busy or young family with dependent children of their own, and possibly managing a hectic work-life balance.

This is the ‘sandwich generation’: squashed between the demands of those above and below them in the generational hierarchy.

This is the starting point for leading to making a serious decision about your parent’s care – not an ideal situation to be in. Your resources and defences are already low.

Then let’s look at the psychology of guilt itself. As Psychology Today states, “guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm.” Let’s examine this.

Taking care of someone who is elderly and frail, who potentially has nursing needs, is by itself a full-time responsibility. The needs may be condensed into certain points of the day but the reality is that you can never do ‘enough’. Your parent will always need more attention, more company, and more security. This is against a backdrop of knowing there is no long-term prognosis of improvement.

Even if you ‘outsource’ much of the daily care to a carer, you’re still where the buck stops. You still need to manage, organise and liaise with the carer. You still are left knowing that companionship is in short supply. This is before you factor in the financial burden of helping and caring for an elderly relative at home.

Your Best Isn’t Enough

Furthermore, the role of an adult child as a carer often grows steadily. There may be defining moments, such as a fall resulting in a hospital stay, but generally speaking the decline happens gradually and the tasks burdening you grow slowly.

As a child of your parent, your sense of responsibility can become overwhelming. Yet at the same time it’s normal for it to be mixed with a sense of resentment and helplessness. The emotion that therefore erupts is guilt.

In reality, your best is never going to be enough, and it’s rarely sustainable. That’s not a criticism. In fact, it’s utterly understandable. Again – the outsider’s logic. Unfortunately, guilt is likely to rear its ugly head no matter what you do, and realising this can be the first step to banishing it.

Realising that you are likely to feel guilt whether you wait, use external carers, juggle the care needs yourself, or use a nursing home in Somerset, can help you to realise the truth that’s going on behind the emotion. Realising this can help you when dealing with the guilt of putting a parent in a nursing home.

Making the Decision

When you realise that whatever decision you take you will likely need to manage the guilt, it can help you to step into the outsider’s shoes and make a decision based on logic and then you can manage the sense of guilt for what it actually is about.

Making the decision involves looking at the facts. Firstly, what does your elderly relative need in terms of care? Make a list of care needs both now and in the immediate future. Then consider the options for how these can best be met, practically, without any emotion in the picture. Detaching in this way enables you to make the best decision.

It can be extremely helpful at this stage to allay any unfounded fears you may have or negative preconceptions about nursing homes. For example, at our nursing homes in Somerset, we are very happy to welcome you to come and see for yourself the standard of care your parent will receive. This exercise usually enables many concerns to dissipate.

When you have made a rational decision, it is the time to face the guilt head-on before it becomes destructive. These are our suggestions:

  • Know that you made the best decision: Realise that there was no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, only the best one taking into account your parent’s needs and the resources available to meet them.
  • Reassure yourself about what your parent has: Consider the benefits of a nursing home and the additional companionship, nutrition and socialisation alongside the care provided. Professional care provides a level of care that an adult child can’t.
  • Accept that you didn’t cause this: The responsibility doesn’t lie with you, it is simply part of life and ageing. Realising you didn’t have full control can help to minimise the guilt.
  • Accept that you are human: Know that you have your limitations, and that by putting your parent in a nursing home you are better able to be present and caring when you are with your loved one.
  • Grieve your loss: Much of the guilt you feel is about grief. You are grieving the role your parent had of nurturing and caring for you, and of being a stable figure in your life. With old age, grief is a gradual process and this is normal. It is normal to grieve for time gone by. This, in turn, will enable you to begin to let go of the past and look positively towards the care being provided
  • Don’t dwell on the now: It’s not unusual for frightened or confused elderly parents to use blaming words against the decisions of their adult children regarding old age care. However, you mustn’t dwell on these. Think back to who your parent was fifteen years ago, would they actually have wanted the situation you, as a member of the sandwich generation, find yourself in? Their words now are spoken from their own grief and fear: they need reassurance that it was the right decision.
  • You are still important: Simply because a loved one is now in a nursing home doesn’t mean your role is any less important. Your constancy and care are of vital importance. What’s more, you will now have the freed up practical and emotional resources to fulfil that role.
  • Meet your own needs: Realise that in the process of recent months and the ultimate decision of moving your parent into a care home, that your needs weren’t met. Take some time to be kind to yourself and actively meet your own needs. This includes forgiving yourself for being human.
  • Speak out: You are not alone in how you feel. Dealing with the guilt of putting a parent in a nursing home is a completely normal emotion and situation. Speak to others and hear the words of support and reassurance from others. If the negative and guilty feelings continue, then you may also find it helpful to talk to a mental health professional.

At our nursing homes in Somerset, we care about the impact of guilt on adult children. This is one of many reasons for offering such a high standard of nursing care. You can feel reassured that your parent is getting the very best care, allowing you to let go of the guilt.