Caregiver dealing with guilt-tripping co-workers
Dear Carol: My mother is 76, healthy and enjoying life. She lives in the same small home where I grew up. Mom still drives, though she’s smart about when and where, and in cases where she’s not comfortable, she rides with younger friends or I drive her. She loves to garden, but again, she’s smart and hires the heavy work done. Mom’s agreed to wear a personal alarm so that I can be alerted if she has an emergency. We see each other nearly once a week and chat or email daily. So why am I writing? I have two co-workers who have parents with Alzheimer’s. They are laying guilt on me because I’m not “making” my mother move to a “safe environment.” Why would I want to insist that Mom do anything different? Mom says to ignore them, and I try, but I hate the guilt trips. I love my mother and will do what I can to help. Am I a neglectful caregiver? — JE.
Dear JE: Your co-workers are out of line, though I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they probably mean well. They just can't see beyond their own circumstances. Overall, I feel strongly that caregivers should not offer unsolicited advice to other caregivers because each situation is unique. It is, of course, different if a caregiver is asked for an opinion, but you didn't ask.
Your mom sounds like she’s enjoying herself. It seems that with the help of her friends and you, her daughter, she is avoiding the biggest issue with aging at home, which is isolation. She gardens, which provides good exercise and is also beneficial for emotional health. She obviously has the ability to not only assess her strengths but to acknowledge weaknesses. Your note mentioned several signs of this, but the most important may be that she’s self-limiting her driving by asking others for help in this area.
In my opinion, your mom sounds as if she’s doing exceptionally well. Keep communicating with her just as you have been. The payoff, other than the mutually respectful relationship that you both enjoy, will be that she will be more likely to tell you when she needs additional help rather than covering up because she’s afraid that you’ll try to limit her independence.
You can tell your co-workers that you appreciate their concern, especially given how busy they are with their own parents’ significant needs. Reassure them that you and your mom have discussed her future, and have plans for different scenarios, but that you’re both satisfied with things as they are for now. If they continue to press, remind them more firmly that at this time your mother is capable of making sound decisions. You could convey that if this changes, you’ll be happy to have them as resources.
JE, you are attentive and appropriate in addressing your mom's needs, so try to ignore the guilt-tripping. There’s no reason to second-guess yourself because you’re doing great.