If you follow my blog, you know that several months ago my dad hired a home health aide to help take care of my mom. At the time, I was feeling stressed out, depressed, overwhelmed, and even isolated, as taking care of my mom part-time had pretty much consumed my whole life. My sister and I were finally able to convince my dad that he needed to hire professional help and that he could no longer continue relying on family members to help out all the time. My mom had reached the point in her illness where she really needed professional care. As much as I wanted to continue helping take care of my mom, she needed more care than I was able to give her. I am not a trained, professional caregiver. I am a daughter. There was only so much that I could do for my mom and I was tired of seeing her go without the care that she so desperately needed. So anyway, my dad agreed to hire an aide and I realized that I needed to learn to let go. I decided that I would only go to my mom’s house to visit her and I would no longer be going there to take care of her.
It sounds easy enough, but so far, it has not been easy at all. I struggle constantly with feeling obligated to offer to help out with my mom. I know how difficult it must be for my dad to take care of her and I feel compelled to go over there to give him a break. Right now, the home health aide has only been coming for twelve hours a week and my aunt helps out one day a week. The rest of the time my dad is on his own. I do occasionally go over to visit my mom when the aide is not there and that gives my dad a little bit of a break. However, I don’t like to be left alone with my mom for long periods of time anymore because I don’t feel that I am qualified to be taking care of her now. It gives me a lot of anxiety. I always feel so bad for my dad that this is what his life has become and I can’t imagine what it must be like for him. I don’t want him to feel like he is alone or that no one cares about him. But, I also know that he has the resources to hire more help or to place my mom in a memory care facility, but he’s not willing to do that right now. As badly as I feel for him, I also get mad and frustrated with him because he’s not willing to help himself right now. He’s making his life a lot harder than it has to be. Although I struggle with feeling obligated to help, I also know that my help will only further enable him to put off getting the care that my mom really needs.
People are always telling me that I’m such a good daughter for taking care of my parents the way I do. But, am I really a good daughter? It’s a question I ask myself almost every single day. I know that I made the decision to stop taking care of my mom. I know that I had reached an unhealthy, almost obsessive, level of worrying about my parents. I know that I needed to learn to let go. But now that I’ve taken a huge step back, I can’t help but feel like I am failing them. I understand that there is only so much that I can do for my mom. She’s no longer able to do the things we used to do together when I was helping to take care of her. I know that there is nothing I can do about it. I can only be there for her. I can’t make her better. I can’t fix her. However, I feel like there is still hope for my dad. I feel like he still has a chance to enjoy the rest of his life, even though it will be without my mom. I feel like I am constantly trying to make him happy. I’m constantly trying to fix him. And I’m failing.
I feel like I should still be helping my dad. I feel like I should be going to his house every day to help out with my mom. I feel like I should be living every moment and every emotion of this horrible disease with him. There are times when I’m going about my day, just doing whatever it is and living my life, and I’ll look to see what time it is. All of the sudden, I start thinking, “I wonder what’s going on at my parents’ house right now. I wonder what they are doing, how they are doing.” These thoughts usually spiral out of control and before I know it I’m berating myself for not being there for them. I’m convincing myself that I’m a horrible, selfish person for not being there and helping them out. I’m telling myself that I’m the worst daughter in the world for letting my dad go through this alone. I think about how sad, depressed, and isolated he must feel. The last thing I want is for him to feel like he is all alone. I wish I could talk to him and be there for him, but my dad doesn’t want to talk about anything. Since he won’t open up to me and I can’t talk to him, I feel like I should physically be there with him. All the time. But, I know that wouldn’t be fair to me. I still deserve to live my life. Right?
Am I a good daughter if I choose to stop taking care of my mom in order to protect myself? Am I a good daughter if I constantly tell myself that I can’t offer to help out no matter how obligated I feel? Am I a good daughter if I only visit my mom once a week? Or if I only visit her when her aide is there so that I won’t have to help her use the bathroom and wipe herself?
Am I a good daughter if I put my own needs before my parents’ needs? Am I a good daughter if I choose to spend time with my husband instead of my parents? Am I a good daughter if I try to separate myself and my life from my parents and their lives? Am I abandoning them when they need me the most? It sure feels like it.
Am I a good daughter if I’m feeling happy or having fun while my mom is suffering and my dad is miserable? Am I even allowed to feel happy at all? Isn’t that selfish of me?
These are actual thoughts that run through my mind on an almost daily basis. I’m doing my best to learn to let go and to remind myself that I still have to live my life. That I can’t let my parents’ lives become my life. I have to say that I’ve done a good job of separating my life from theirs and trying to let go, but that doesn’t mean that I feel good about it. It is a constant daily struggle. I have to constantly pull myself out of these negative thoughts. I have to force myself to stop beating myself up over every little thing and telling myself that I’m not a good daughter because I’m not helping out more. It took my parents fifteen years to get pregnant with my sister and then me. And, I don’t think they did it just so we would give up our whole lives to take care of them when they got older. I know this, but it’s still hard to let go.
Maybe there’s a compromise between giving up my whole life to take care of my parents and completely abandoning them to live my own life. I don’t think I’ve found it. Have I found it? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. No matter how much I’m doing for them, all I think about is what I’m not doing for them. I’m always questioning myself. If I’m not helping out anymore, does that mean that I’ve abandoned them? Or does it mean that I’m trying to find balance in my life by caring for them without actually taking care of them? I don’t think there’s one right answer. Some days I feel one way and other days I feel another way. It’s a daily struggle and it’s not going away any time soon.
A very good friend of mine, who is a mother of two, gave me some very good advice one day. She said that as a parent, you always want your children to have a better life than the one you had. She said that she never fully understood this until she had children of her own, but it’s very true. She told me that my mom wouldn’t want me to give up my life to take care of her. My mom would want me to live my life and follow my dreams. She would want me to do all the things in my life that she never had a chance to do in hers. I have to believe that.
So, am I a good daughter? I really don’t know, but I’m doing the best I can.