Several people wrote to me about additional feelings of guilt brought up by the many logistical challenges involved in putting together family holiday gatherings when aging or health-challenged relatives don’t live nearby.
An excellent question – and a scenario that happens in millions of families every time there’s a major holiday. The collective amount of guilt it stirs up is enormous!
- Some adult children want their elderly parents to be able to participate, and when they can’t make that happen because of distance, time or money they feel incredibly guilty.
- Others feel guilty because they don’t want to go through what it takes to get their parents to these gatherings. It’s just too hard on them. When they do pull it off, they often feel stressed and resentful instead of warm and loving – and that causes even more guilt!
- On top of that, they feel like they don’t dare admit to thinking, “I wish we could just give ourselves a break this year and leave Dad home.” – at least not without fearing that they’ll look like a horrible, rejecting and ungrateful child!
As I said last week, guilt is appropriate when you have done or are doing something legally, morally or ethically wrong. However, we sometimes feel guilty because we’re doing something that is merely different from the expected social tradition.
Because those traditions are so powerful in our culture, the initial thought of going against such traditions and expectations triggers a feeling that it’s really wrong.
…and we breathe…
So – what to do, when you feel strongly that you need to make a different choice?
First, get clear about what fears and feelings come up for you when considering an option you think others won’t like. Ask yourself some questions:
- What happens when it’s too much logistically or emotionally to have your parents attend a holiday celebration?
- Is it too much for them, but you still feel guilty that they cannot attend?
- Is it too much for you, and you feel guilty that you do not want to do what it would take for them to attend?
- Let’s say you honor your decision not to make that effort – what happens when other family members ask about your mom, and question why she’s not in attendance?
- If the only issue is a strictly logistical one, what are some other possible options?
- Could mom be picked up by a cab?
- Can an aide be hired for the day to attend to mom’s needs and travel with her?
- Can another family member provide transportation to the gathering?
We often connect the act of personally making the trip to bring a distant parent to be with family with the thought, “Well, I’m happy to do this for mom, because I love her.” So then, if we decide we just can’t make that trip one year, does that equal, “I must not love mom!” in our minds?
It’s understandable that you feel uncomfortable; it’s a big change, and change is difficult and challenging.
If the issue is that dad would not be able to handle the event – it would be too physically exhausting, or he would not be fully cognizant of events or people, your feelings of guilt may be about more than simply not being able to have him attend. What guilt might you be experiencing because you cannot make things better for him?
…and we breathe…
Whether it would be too hard on them, too much for you, or you’re concerned about what others will think, you need to look at it in terms of your Desired Outcome. If that is to have mom attend the event, and she’s sitting at the table with you, then the key is to focus on that, instead of on how she got there.
If you need time off from caregiving, and to enjoy a family event without the added stress, you need to give yourself permission to have your needs met.
So here are my recommended 6 Steps to Gracefully Release Family Caregiver Holiday Guilt:
Step One: And We Breathe! Step one is always to give yourself space so you can fully process what is going on, what your feelings are, and what your thoughts and reactions are to the situation.
Step Two: Identify your Desired Outcome. Remember that it must 1) be what you want, not what you don’t want, and 2) be something over which you have control.
Step Three: Thank Everyone who asks about your absent parent(s), for their thoughtfulness and consideration. Let them know you appreciate their concern, and that you, too, are missing those who couldn’t be there.
Step Four: Do NOT Explain, Defend or Justify. A simple statement that “it just didn’t work for him to attend” is enough. Let them know you will share their good thoughts and love the next time you see your parent. If your parents are cognitively aware, you can lovingly suggest that your parents would love a call from them.
Step Five: Take a Deep Breath. As you work through any conflicting feelings that arise as you enjoy the family gathering without the added responsibility, continue to acknowledge that you deserve this time off.
Step Six: Feeling Judged, or Struggling With This Decision? Reach out for support and guidance…all it takes is an email to Loren@LorenGelbergGoff.com to schedule a complimentary 20-minute call with me.
As a therapist, my goal is to help you Prevent the Holiday Blues. As a family caregiver, I have experienced the struggles and have felt the overwhelm. So, I’ve created a video that gives you a few ideas for re-thinking your attitudes and finding new ways to respond to all the holiday challenges that can arise.
Take a few minutes for yourself to see that support does exist!
…and we breathe….