As caregivers, we all struggle with guilt at one time or another – or perhaps on a regular basis. Whether you take care of your loved one at home or you are responsible for overseeing their care, it’s likely that you never feel like you’re doing enough. You should have done this instead of that. You could have done that better than you did. And so the cycle goes.

The Four Agreements

After reading my recent post on caregiver guilt, my daughter reminded me that perhaps it might be time to re-read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. She was right, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was also worth sharing with other caregivers.

If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. At less than 150 pages, it’s a quick read jam packed with wisdom that will help you put things into perspective in your role as a caregiver and beyond. There’s certainly nothing magic about The Four Agreements; it’s all beautifully simple:

  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t take anything personally.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Always do your best.

Free Yourself by Always Doing Your Best

Four little words, yet so profound. Always. Do. Your. Best. The key is to remember that your best is constantly changing. If you’re exhausted, feeling under the weather, or upset, you can still do your best, but your best will be different than it would be if you were energized, healthy, or calm. And, that’s okay, because at that very moment, you’re still doing the best you can do. I think this is where we often lose our way; at least that is the case for me.

As caregivers, we set impossibly high standards for ourselves, so of course we can’t live up to them all of the time. However, when we always do our best, regardless of the circumstance, there is no room for self-doubt, guilt, or regrets. If you’ve done your best at any given time, there’s nothing to beat yourself up over. Remember, though, your best changes from day to day, sometimes hour to hour.

Putting Theory Into Practice

It’s simple in theory, but most of us know it’s much more challenging in practice. Self-doubt and guilt become habitual, so it will take practice. When you feel those oh-so-familiar feelings of inadequacy creeping in, remind yourself that you’re doing your best. Your loved one wouldn’t ask for more than that. He or she would understand that sometimes you’re tired or out of sorts.

Some days will be more difficult than others. It’s inevitable that you will lose your patience when your mother asks the same question six times within 30 minutes. There will be a day when you’re just too emotionally drained to visit. And you’ll most certainly be filled with doubt when it comes time to tell your parent they can no longer drive or that it’s time to think about assisted living. Give yourself a break. At those moments, stop and take a few deep breaths. Let go of the internal struggle and remind yourself that you’re doing your best.

Post a list of the four agreements on your refrigerator, or keep the book in a handy spot so that you can pick it up and read a few pages when you need help getting back on track. I hope you’ll find this little book as helpful as I have. Peace of mind is the most wonderful gift we can give ourselves. And our loved ones would want that for us, too.

“Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”  ~Don Miguel Ruiz

12 Comments

  1. Debra

    Thank you for your post. My dad and stepmother got very sick at the same time. She has phyczophrenia, parkensons, paranoia and dementia which came on fast. My dad has mild dementia and fell and fractured his hip. They both lived in a home in Pennsylvania with the closest neighbor 1/4 of a mile away. I live in Florida and my sister lives in Connecticut. They never wanted us to move their or even spend time their to help them. Whenever we called my stepmother would say everything was fine and so would my dad. They hid what was really going on. Once my dad fell and fractured his hip we were both notified and went to Pennsylvania and saw the truth. Expired food, filthy home, garbage everywhere ect. I moved my dad to Florida and he is in an assisted living facility. I spend lots of time with him and he is doing great. However, my stepmother was deemed incompetant and has to spend her live in a lock down facility. My sister is moving her to connecticut so she and her husband can look after her. My biggest regret is that after 25 years of being married and together they are now seperated. My dad does not want to live in a nursing home or be in connecticut with the snow and ice, and my stepmother does not want to live in Florida. Being that she is seing things that do not exist and things she goes to work all day, my sister and I thinks it’s best for my Dad to not be with her. Are we doing the right thing?? Please any advise would be helpful as my dad is asking for her and wants to see her and she has no clue and does not ask for him.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Debra, what a situation. My heart goes out to you. At the end of the day, I think safety is the most important thing. It sounds like even if they were in the same state, their conditions are so different that they couldn’t live in the same facility. You said your dad’s dementia is mild; are you able to explain her condition in a way that he understands, or is it something he can’t grasp? As an outsider looking in, one blessing I can see is that your sister is with mom and you are with dad. You already have a lot on your place, and if you had both with you in Florida, that would be doubled – or more, considering they would be in two different locations.

      There’s just no way around the heartbreak in this story. As I’ve watched my mom over the years, the one thread that has remained a constant in my mind is – WHY would she have to live out her years this way? She worked so very hard her entire life with the goal of a long, happy, healthy retirement, and she is now completely detached from reality. She has good moments, but let’s face it, she’s in a living hell. Nobody would choose this fate. What about that thing they call “the golden years?”

      I wish I had an answer for you, but one thing I will say is that it sounds like you are truly doing your best. You and your sister have made the best decisions you can in a very difficult situation. I struggle with guilt every single day, so I can tell you not to let guilt get to you, but i know that’s unrealistic. There’s no magic pill, that’s for sure. I really do recommend reading The Four Agreements, though. If you’re like me, you’ll need to re-read it (or parts of it) now and then to remind yourself, but it does help put things into perspective.

      Sending you hugs and prayers across the miles. Stay strong, and don’t forget to take care of yourself!!

  2. Debra

    Thank you so much for your support and advise. It means a lot to me more than you know. My dad knows how sick my stepmom is but doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that she is at the point of no return. I’m assure him she is happy and not scared anymore and is happy where she is and is getting the best care. But I can see in his empty stares that he is worried sick about her and I let him speak with her on the phone often. He sometimes gets frustrated is we call her on an off day and tells her to “call me back when your clearer” yesterday he spoke with her and had a better conversation which made me so happy. The house where he is has a lot of turn around and people come who he bonds with and then they leave. The home has advised me that they are trying to get more long term residents because it is effecting my dad. He see people leaving and thinks his turn to leave will be soon. I explain to him that he is home and where would like to go and he doesn’t have an answer. He has only been their a month and I think still needs to get adjusted. I see him twice a week and Sunday is his day to pick where he wants to go and then we take him to lunch wherever he chooses. I’m just afraid as this is new to me and I want my dad to be happy and at the same time I’m afraid I will lose him due to his wife’s situation. I am going firt thing in the morning to buy the book. Thank you for the hugs and prayers : ) they are making me feel a bit better. I am so glad I found a web site that I can turn to. Hugs to you as well from Orange Park, Florida.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Debra, It definitely took my mom awhile to adjust… it may take some time, but your dad will get there.

  3. Ella

    Dear Ann,

    Another great reading and advisement, thank you. I am going to seek out this book for my reading.

    Being a caregiver to my Dear Mom, who passed in 05, and now to my Brother, I find myself, once again, challenged by, “the am I doing the right thing syndrome?”

    I strive to feel confident in decision making, always evaluating all options before my move. I ponder how I handled a behavior issue; questioning if I said or did the wrong thing? I reach out for support when needed, to educate myself and to avoid any mistake the next time. I am actively involved in his care, wanting the best for him, eager to question if needed. I spoil him; going the extra mile for his menu of choice, being concerned about his comfort, fanatical about the cleanliness of his domain. I am sure I push myself.

    Why, I will admit I want and need to. I know I showed the same drive and determination previously with my Dear Mom, loving her dearly, hoping and believing I could make things better. I do reminisce about her alot these days, I am sure grieving still. I find myself wondering if I could have done a better job in her caregiving, sometimes thinking yes. I look back on decisions made, what I did or said. I would relish a second chance to do it all over again, better. Maybe now I am over compensating? Believe so. My Brother was her first born, know she loved him dearly, as me, but I look back at pictures of her with him, so young and beautiful, and I am encouraged once again to do the best I am able for her.

    You are right in your advisement, even though it is sometimes easier said than done, to not be so hard on ourselves, but we must strive to reach that peace. I am never going to give up on that challenge, reaching that plateau. You are right when you state, “Our loved ones would want that.” I believe my Dear Mom is guiding me, believing in me. Both of my dear parents proud of my accomplishments,RIP.

    God Bless all caregivers.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Thank you for the comment, Ella. You sound like an amazing person. 🙂

  4. Mary Jo Deschene

    I find myself totally overwhelmed. I am an only child and single. My mother has been a widow since she was 46. Now she is almost 90. She managed all these years in subsidized housing, living on not much money. As she got older, my responsibilities increased from taxi, to grocery shopper, to launderer and cleaning lady. But now she wants assisted living and no one wants someone on a waiver. It just doesn’t seem fair. To top it off, the doctor told her –oh no you don’t belong in a nursing home, go to assisted living. Have your daughter get a lawyer. Can someone tell me what the lawyer will do?? Now she has decided to try it at home with help??? I hope it works.

  5. Donna Compton

    As I read each comment I realize that my story, though different the telling, is all the same in its underlying struggle to maintain our own sense of “normalcy” and to be kind to ourselves first so that we can “care” for our loved ones. My mom moved into a Memory Care place near me just one month ago…straight from her own home, car and bank acct. to a two room suite in lock down. She doesn’t understand why she’s there and thinks we’ve tricked her…Her Alzheimer’s is not as advances as most of those she is in community with, but if we moved her to assisted, she’d just walk out the door to get back home. My daughter’s and I are taking for her first night out on 12/12 – a “girl’s night out” to see a Christmas musical. I’m hoping she handles the return to her suite and that we can continue to bring her home for the holiday and other events. I’m very tired and the adjustment, body-soul-spirit, I’ve realized, is going to take a while to achieve. I’m off for a week in her home city to help my brother dispose of her personal property as we put her house on the market. I think I’m done with the guilt as I know that my mom’s life choices added to her symptoms – she is so fearful of being victimized and losing her control over her life…we let her live alone and drive far beyond what we should have. I will read the Four Agreements and look here often to remind myself I am not alone in this.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Donna, you are absolutely not alone. This is a great place to come to be reminded of that. I’ll be honest, right now, the comments I’m getting here are helping to keep me going. About the only bright spot I can see in this mess is that our story may somehow touch the lives of others going through their own struggle. As I write this, we just moved a loveseat into my mom’s room (she is in an adult group home specializing in ALZ care) so I have a place to sit and/or sleep. Mom went on hospice Saturday… it was time. I fear that she won’t be leaving this room again, but I hope I am wrong. May God bless you and your family and give you the peace and strength you need and deserve.

      Feel free to email me any time ([email protected]). The adjustment from home to AL is a difficult one for everyone involved. As hard as it is to have your mom in a secure memory care unit, if she’s a flight risk, it really is best. Despite wearing a wander guard, when my mom was in AL, she escaped twice. Both times it was a miracle that she wasn’t hurt and that good, kind people saw her, realized something was wrong and called the police.

      -Ann

  6. caregiver services

    Good day! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying
    your blog and look forward to new updates.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Thank you for reading as well as for the feedback. Regarding Twitter, you can follow A Place For Mom at @aplaceformom and me at @anapoletan.

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