Let’s start with some basic premises. Caregiving for an aging parent can be difficult and overwhelming. Caregiving requires organization, resources, and supports. Caregivers benefit from a caring and collaborative team of family and friends. Respite is important. Caregiving can be rewarding and honors the reciprocal relationship between parents and adult children. Research and resulting literature support these assumptions. Necessary supports and services have been designed and implemented to support the caregiver. What if you are the caregiver for an abusive aging parent? How does caregiving affect you?
The Centers for Disease Control lists four types of abuse. They are
- Physical Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
Within those broad categories are acts that result in harm, the potential for harm, and the threat of harm to a child. The CDC reports that there were 676,000 victims of child abuse and neglect reported to child protective services (CPS) in 2016. A non-CPS study cited by the CDC estimated that 1 in 4 children experience some form of child abuse or neglect in their lifetimes and 1 in 7 children have experienced abuse or neglect in the last year. Some child advocacy and protection experts feel that these statistics are conservative. If you experienced neglect or abuse as a child, know that you are not alone. Many adult children who have experienced abuse or neglect are faced with the unique challenges of providing care for someone who didn’t provide adequate care for them. The caregiver experience for these persons can open up a wellspring of guilt, anger, and grief.
The American experience is largely shaped by religious tenets. Many of us heard the admonishment that we need to Honor Thy Mother and Father. This is really tough for persons who have experienced ongoing abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents. Implicit in this maxim is that we are expected to take care of our parents as they age. What if this arrangement is emotionally unhealthy? What if it triggers a recurrence of trauma? What if the parent is still abusive? Verbal abuse that occurred when you were six can have the same sting if repeated when you are 45.
I don’t pretend to be a theologian, but I can tell you this: You have the right to set your own boundaries. Be prepared to feel a sense of obligation and guilt. This can be especially pronounced if you are an only child or the only child in the family that experienced the abuse. Societal expectations are compounded if you are a daughter. Caregivers who were abused as children are more prone to depression and anger. In extreme situations, the frustration can boil over to the point in which the caregiver abuses or neglect abuses the aging parent. The deterioration of the aging parent ’s health can cause grief. For the Adult Child survivor, this sense of loss can be nuanced. One grieves for what happened in the past, as well as that which never happened: a childhood in which one was safe and free from abuse.
Here are some suggestions for working through this difficult scenario:
- Talk with a trusted counselor. Maybe you have been in therapy before and have reconciled the trauma. Even so, exploring and accepting decisions about care involvement in a supportive environment would be helpful.
- Should you choose to have primary involvement, surround yourself with supportive people and resources that are available to caregivers.
- Know that you can always change your decision and implement new boundaries at any point in time.
- Establish a self-care regimen.
- If you are not comfortable with making decisions for an incapacitated adult, consider the availability of a private professional guardian. These are individuals who are appointed and monitored by a Court to make decisions and advocate for an incapacitated adult. Good Guardians involve adult children in planning to the extent that they want to be involved.
An experienced Care Manager can help you navigate through the social service and benefits processes. A Care Manager could support you in your decisions regarding caregiving. They can help obtain any resources you need to be a caregiver while maintaining your own emotional wellbeing. A Care Manager would not place any judgment should you choose to distance yourself from the situation. At arrangeCARE, our care managers have years of experience working through challenging family dynamics. We can coordinate resources for caregivers. We can coordinate services for your parent, allowing you to shield yourself from further pain or retraumatization. Please call us. We are here for you.