granddaughter hugging grandma

By guest blogger: Jeff Anderson

Many family caregivers report feeling guilt at some point during their labor of love. It’s such a common phenomenon that “caregiver guilt” is now a widely used and understood term in the caregiving world. For some caregivers, these feelings can be especially difficult and frequent.

The potential causes of caregiver’s guilt are many. As family caregivers, we may feel that we’re not trying hard enough for mom or dad, or that we’re not doing things right, or that it’s wrong of us to take a moment to ourselves. We may blame ourselves when our loved one falls or takes a turn for the worse. We may feel guilt because we believe that we’re neglecting the rest of the family by focusing so much on one person. Or we might feel like we’ve let mom or dad down when we have to transition them to professional care at a senior community.

Guilt occurs when we don’t live up to our own expectations. Sometimes the expectations that we hold ourselves to are realistic, but often they are not. When our expectations of ourselves as caregivers are realistic, guilt can serve as a motivator to act differently the next time a similar situation arises. But when our expectations are unrealistic, guilt can be a crippling and unproductive emotion.

Here is a three-step strategy to coping with your guilt as a caregiver:

  1. Identify the feeling — The first step to coping with guilt, or any “negative” emotion, is to recognize you’re having the emotion.
  2. Identify your expectations — Once we recognize guilt, we must ask ourselves, “What expectation of ourselves have we failed to live up to that is causing this feeling?”
  3. Scrutinize your expectations. Are they realistic? — If your expectations of yourself or your expectations of the world are not realistic, let the guilt go. If your expectations are realistic, think about how you will act differently next time.

So if you feel guilty about missing your child’s dance recital or baseball game because you are the only one able to remain at home to care for your elderly parent, remind yourself that you simply cannot be two places at once. Or if you feel guilty because your loved one has taken a fall, remember that you did everything you could to make that person safe, and that it is not possible to be by anyone’s side all of the time. If you feel guilt after moving your parent to a care-home, recognize that you did so out of love, and that sometimes people in their twilight years simply get to a point when professional care is required to keep them comfortable and safe.

Chances are you will never rid yourself of guilt entirely. Even with coping strategies like the one outlined in this post, strong emotions don’t always bend to rational analysis. You may find that talking about your feelings with a friend, a therapist, or at a caregiving support-group also helps you understand and move past unproductive guilt.

About the Author: Jeff Anderson has worked has in the senior living industry for several years, primarily as a family advisor. He also has personal experience in a caregiving role with his wonderful grandmother, Lola.


  1. Joseph Pisani

    Hello,as a caregiver for mother now since passing of father in 1999, let me explain i am experienced,,,,,

    it is great to care for elderly or ill family,,,yet NEVER, NEVER, sek to consult to friends, or family about YOUR emotions,,,they will in time most often use it against you,,,,,,,,

    SEEK PROFESSIONAL help,,,or some outside contact u gain to trust.

    Joan loundon is RICH,,the average Person has many many different issuses to deal with,,,and if Family or Friends are not willing to recognise and help a need then PLEASE do not expect them to understand your concerns

    God tells us to expect Nothing from MAN,,and when push comes to shove u will understand family and friends will leave u HIGH and DRY,,,they do not wish to listen to your voiced concerns of the happy and sad times of a care giver,,,REMEMBER,,,if they were interested they would be care giving as well

    Joseph Pisani
    727 421 8211

  2. janis rands

    Thanks for this information, ie, true value, and also a bout cargiver guilt. My mother went blind about twenty years before she passed, that is when I was beginning my cargiving. I moved both of my parents into my home, with husbans ok., tho I know it was hard for him and my kids. eight years ago. During that time my sister had a fight with cancer, so I was by her side. Life was not easy during my parents stay with us. Now, my husband has multiple myeloma, and the care continues. I try to keep a good face on all of this, but do feel like I am the least supported…on a emotional level. Other than telling myself, to be brave and calm, and recently, take care of myslef, too. That is a challenge, but I wonder if I will ever have the level of care everyone else is having. theres the guilt and self pity part.

    • tom

      Janis’s last statement hit me right on. I am caring for my father who is 96 and with dementia at my home with my wife’s approval. It is incredibly challenging and I have loss all kinds of freedom which I understand. The key here, is every one recognizes the sacrifices and I get many kudos for what I do, but I don’t want praise, I want emotional support with out asking for it. I am mostly a giver, and it is hard to ask for help. I usaully offer mine, but I certainly would appreciate help from others in the family with out asking for it.

      It’s strange. My children have babies , dogs, etc, and we automatically let them know we can help them and we do so they can have some free time…yet, no one sees that they could say Dad..take the day off, I will watch Grandpa.Or, we are coming bye to kkep you company and have a beer. They just don’t get it. I actually think they stay a way because they think they are helping.

      This is where the self pity comes starts. Just stating this makes me feel like I’m whining and resentful which then makes feel me badly about myself.

      When I share my frustrations, my family actually starts yelling at me to do this and that and put him in a home! They don’t deal with my guilt , my ambivalence, my just being plain exhausted and frustrated. Honestly, the only time I get some reasonable dialoge is from the professionals I speak to about my dilemma.

      Lastly, I just need some surprise relief. I don’t need anymore advice.

      And Janis, the answer to whether you will get the same kind of care that you give to others , is don’t count on it. It is our duty I have been told not to be a burden on others..Hmm, good thing I didn’t consider raising my kids and grandchildren a burden , otherwise they would be sent to a permanent residence home.

  3. Marlene

    My mother is on dialysis and has transportation to and from dialysis paid by medicare or medi-cal. As a result she should not be driving. I reside 50 miles from her and travel at least once a week to buy groceries for her and do laundry. There are other instances when I also attend medical appointments with her but that has reduced.

    She uses a walker to get around and walking the aisles of the grocery store is very hard for her, if she could get there by herself.

    Is there help, tax wise, for the 100 mile per week round trip to buy groceries?

  4. DanaLarsen

    This is only natural, Janis. Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult jobs someone can have, not only from an emotional standpoint, but also because it can be quite taxing, physically. Caregiver guilt is only a natural part of this experience, as discussed in the post. It sounds like you’ve been going through a rough time having to be a caregiver for so many! Your parents, sister and husband are so lucky to have you. But, yes, you need to also take care of yourself and attend to your own needs. Have you read this blog post? Make sure to get some help and schedule some fun things for yourself to nurture your own mind, body and soul.

  5. Lucy Delgado

    My mom was discharged to my care after her discharge from a hospitalization after she fell in her own home. I say “…discharged to my care…: as if I had no say so over the matter. But I had, in fact, made the decision, along with my adult daughter and other family members, to care for my mother in my own home after two years of providing care for her in her own home; this care included grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and help with financial matters which allowed her to remain independent in her own self determination to remain at home. Our labor of love included my ex spouse who was more than willing to be part of our “caretaker team”; it took much sacrifice on the part of all caretakers, but Mom got her wish and was happy to be able to continue to live alone up until the age of 78. Mom lived independently all the way up until her fall a couple of months ago, which not only rendered her incapable of ever being able to live alone again, but her fall seems to have accelerated the disease process; i.e., she went from being able to perform some ADL’s to not being able to do much of anything anymore; her sleep has become longer and she does nothing but complain about any little thing. Most distressing is not her inability to reside alone, but equally alarming was my mom’s inability to remember the date and year, as well as forgetting the names of a group of women she used to go swimming with, and forgetting if she has already eaten a meal. We have observed so many changes in my mother since her fall, and we have had to be especially diligent in preserving the coping skills we currently now appear to be lacking due to the tremendous amount of work and the responsibilities we now fulfill. I have done a significant amount of research and ,as a medical social worker, I worked with many patients with alzheimer’s and dementia, but I am aghast at the toll my mom’s coming home to live with me and our family has taken on all of us. Feelings of guilt are not only devastating but saddening as well and leaves us questioning our abilities to continue to care for Mom in our current home setting. I write this now, not to make a query, but to make it the first of my journaling through this difficult time and the journey we are undertaking with our dearest, sweetest mother. Our prayers go out to all caregivers around the world and their loved ones! God Bless us all.

  6. Donna

    Lucy, I, too, saw my mother change after she fell. She was scheduled for eye surgery before she fell and had to have hip surgery, which she’d needed before, which is why I think she ended up falling. Her doctor wouldn’t agree for her to have it before; I think he was hoping she’d die first. Anyway, if he had and she could have had it before she fell, then I think her eye surgery would have worked out a lot better; as it was, with her having fallen first and the changes that made, it ended up not really doing any good having the eye surgery, since she began to forget so much it didn’t really matter any more whether she could see or not anyway. The little over a year from the time she fell until she died was a really hard one but, at least in our case, I do wonder if it would have been if we at least hadn’t been dealing with her eye surgery as well. I wish she could have accepted the doctor’s verdict the year before she fell that it wasn’t going to do any good anyway at that point but instead I wonder if her devastation over that wasn’t partially what led to her fall. On top of that her so desperately wanting to have the eye surgery led to her not being able to have medication to prevent UTIs she was prone to have, which she did indeed begin to have leading to a kidney infection, with her being sicker than I think any of us realized, which I think really pulled her down leading ultimately to her death, I do believe; I believe it weakened her heart, since they asked at her last hospital admission after she’d collapsed if she’d had heart trouble; no, but I know these infections can lead to it but I didn’t think to mention it to the doctor – at the time I was just aggravated her doctor wouldn’t see her.

  7. Gloria Pinto, RN, BSN, MS

    I can relate to all of the situations all of you have described above. My husband retired in 2001. He had a second heart attack in May 2002, the 1st happened 25 yrs. earlier and left damage to his posterior heart muscle, but he did well and lived a normal life until 2002. His health steadily declined over the next two years with Parkinson’s and mild dementia. My widowed father’s health was also declining with arthritis, COPD, stasis ulcers on both lower legs and macular degeneration. Fortunately, I have 3 brothers and 2 sisters who all pitched in to help with my father. My sister and I took turns doing his wound care, she is a nurse. The other sister who lived out of town came and stayed a few weeks with him a couple times a year to give the rest of us a break. As my husband’s health got worse, I was not able to help as much with my father. We hired a couple of caregivers to stay with my father for when a family member could not be present, as we all worked. We all contributed financially.One brother took on the role to handle my father’s finances and legal matters. We maintained him at home for as long as possible. When he could no longer walk, even with assisstance, he was a big man, we had to make some painful decisions.
    We all knew he never wanted to go to a nursing home. I thought of bringing him to my home and try to take care of him and my husband. My siblings would not hear of me doing this. My home only has bedrooms upstairs. My father lived in a nursing home 3 years. We all paid for a bedside sitter during the day time, He could not see and often could not find his call bell.One brother went every morning at 6am before he went to work to see my father. My sister went everyday at lunch time, She worked nearby. The other two brothers took turns going everynight. The thought being that my dad would have family visit every day. This was an extremely hard time for all of us. But I know this level of care would have been virtually impossible without the cooperation of my siblings. My husband died last May 26,2011 at home. He required total care the last 6 years. I had Hospice help the last two months. My dad died last November at 96. People tell me, “You are so fortunate to be a nurse, you know what to do.” I still got tired and depressed. I also have “caregiver’s guilt.”I just ran on autopilot for so long. I want to go back to work but not in healthcare. Friends want to give me a pet. but I don’t want a goldfish right now! I miss my husband so much, his presence, although I would not want him back to suffer.

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