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Caregiver Burnout: 3 Steps to Take If You Are “Done”

I would bet a million bucks that you have heard or read about caregiver stress and burnout.  There is no doubt that being a caregiver can be one of the most difficult roles one can ever take on and there are real risks of caregiver stress and burnout.

Many of us have frustrating and stress filled moments when we want to ‘throw in the towel.’ What do we do, however, when we feel like we want to or we must relinquish the role of caregiver altogether? It really doesn’t matter much whether you can’t or won’t continue as a caregiver. What matters is what you do about feeling this way.

We all have limitations. It is a strength to know what these limitations are. Be wary of your self-talk. It is not that you are selfish or uncaring. It is not that you should be able to handle it. It is not that you need to just “suck it up.”  How you are doing matters just as much as how your mom or dad are doing.

It takes courage

It actually takes a great deal of courage to face the truth that you just can’t do it anymore. It doesn’t mean you are a “bad” or “terrible” son or daughter. Even with help, the stress and/or anxiety or physical exertion related to caregiving tasks and activities may be too much for you to handle.

It is a relationship and there is a relationship dynamic that may not be able to be transcended in the interests of caregiving. There may be just too much baggage from childhood.  Perhaps your mom or dad neglected you or were abusive to you (and still are). It is also possible that the personality of your mom or dad is simply too challenging for you to continue providing care.  Perhaps your parent’s care needs have simply exceeded what you can provide, even with all of the available services and assistance.

As with all challenges and difficult decisions, bringing the stance of a kind and compassionate aunt or uncle or friend to the situation is in order.

Honestly assess your ability and interest

It is a rigid attachment to an original plan that can lead to the proverbial burnout. That is, you may have taken on responsibility for caring for your aging parent/s and believe that you have to follow it through to their death. Sometimes the plan needs to change.

This may sound harsh but we are all dispensable. That is, things do not need to continue in the same way that they have always been. There isn’t anything that “has to be.” We often don’t come up with “Plan B” or “Plan C” because we are rigidly attached to the original plan.

Your mom or dad is better served with an honest assessment of your ability and interest to continue as a caregiver rather than continuing to provide care while hanging onto resentments and anger.

You may already be showing signs of caregiver burnout. You may not be providing optimal care or you may even be neglecting and/or putting your parent at risk. If this is so, the wisest and most compassionate thing you can do for both of you is to work on a transition plan.

What to do if you are done: three steps

1. Have a conversation with your mom or dad.

There may be some emotional reactions including disappointment, sadness, anger, and/or attempts to make you feel guilty and carry on as a caregiver. However, there may also be some relief and agreement that it is time to make a change. If your mom or dad is capable, they should be included in making the new caregiver plan. What would they like to see happen? What are their preferences? What is possible?

2. Call a family meeting.

If there are other family members, you may want to call a family meeting either in person or over the phone. Once again, be prepared because if other family members have not been involved in the caregiving and you have been the primary caregiver, there may be some resistance to you changing the arrangement.

3. Inform service providers and health care professionals.

They may be able to assist with a new caregiving plan. This will be especially so if the plan is for your mom or dad to move into a retirement home or long-term care (nursing home).

The truth is that everyone involved (even marginally) will likely have an opinion about your decision.  Draw on Eleanor Roosevelt’s sage comment: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” That is, what matters most is what you think of you. If you have any lingering guilt, check out Kicking Caregiver Guilt to the Curb

Bookmark this page in case you get to a place of caregiver burnout.