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.

Levelled up guilt: what about putting a parent in a nursing home against their will?

It’s hard enough experiencing the guilt associated with making the decision to put a parent in a nursing home. Even if the individual is amenable and understands the need, there are usually feelings of guilt arising from questioning if you are doing enough and whether you are abandoning them when they need you most.

This situation can be made so much worse if you’re knowingly doing this against your parent’s will. The guilt over putting a parent in a nursing home when you know that they really don’t want to go can be horrendous.

That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision. Even when you feel guilt, it is likely the right and best decision for all.

It does mean that you’ve got a tougher job tackling your own emotions to effect the best decision for everyone.

What do you do when your elderly parent refuses needed care?

Can social services force my parent into a nursing home?

In the UK, the short answer is ‘yes’. If an individual’s care needs aren’t being met at home and it’s deemed that the best way to meet their needs is in a nursing home then yes, social services can put someone into a nursing home.

However, this is a rare and final step. Adult children are usually faced with the question of what do you do if your parent refuses to go into a nursing home well in advance of any social services intervention.

And this is where the guilt really needs to be managed. Putting a parent in a nursing home against their will isn’t usually a case of the adult child and the elderly parent sitting on completely different sides of the debate with the elderly parent simply refusing to physically budge. Indeed, much of the guilt can come simply by knowing that it’s not your elderly parent’s wishes, but they don’t actually have the agency to do anything about it. And that in itself is heart-breaking.

In the UK you cannot force your parent to accept care. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t feel guilty because they are receiving it begrudgingly.

Tips to encourage your elderly parent to get on board with moving into a care home

Bringing your parent onside is the best way to reduce the guilt associated with doing something against their will. Here are some tips to help:

·         Be patient and start early

Always start broaching the subject of a nursing home as early as you can. It takes time for individuals to adjust their expectations and consider a life change such as this.

·         Understand their concerns

Listen to your elderly parent and try to ascertain why they are so reluctant to move. In this way you may be able to allay fears and ease the transition. Try to ‘be on their side’ as much as you possibly can, demonstrating that you truly understand how difficult it is. Let them have their way on things which are less important.

·         Try to present options

Giving some degree of control to the individual can help them to get on board. Suggest different care options or different nursing homes.

·         Get help and advice if you need it

No matter your age, the parent-child dynamics can make things tricky. It often helps to get a professional involved who can help. A GP or social worker can help your elderly parent to understand their reality and the impact of the situation on you.

If you are able to bring your parent on board to thinking that going into a nursing home is the right decision for them, and brings many positives, then this will greatly help to reduce your sense of guilt.

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.