Humans are compassionate, caring and empathetic beings by nature. That’s why you may feel guilty when placing a parent in a nursing home. But remember, what you are feeling is natural, and you aren’t alone.

In fact, in Australia in 2011, there were over 160,000 people living in residential aged care facilities full-time. Deciding to place a parent in a nursing home is not easy, but sometimes it is the better option for all and not something to feel guilty about.

Reasons why caregivers feel guilty

Even if it is the better option, people still have overwhelming feelings of sadness and guilt when placing a parent in a nursing home. Some of the common reasons behind those feelings are:

  • It goes against our natural instincts. People want to nurture and care for loved ones and to provide a safe, loving environment for them.
  • For some people it may feel as though they are handing their parents over to strangers or even betraying them.
  • Some people assume that it goes against cultural, religious or familial expectations. You might feel as though you aren’t living up to what others presume as your responsibility.
  • As a caregiver, you may sometimes feel guilty when you are having a good time, or living your life in a normal way rather than caring for your parent at home.
  • When a parent is in nursing care, you may feel relieved that they are in a safe situation and you no longer have to worry about them day in and day out. These feelings of relief may cause you to feel guilty or selfish.

Forgive yourself so you can stop feeling guilt

You love your parent and no matter what happens, it is common to feel emotional during difficult transitions like moving into a nursing home. It’s not always easy, but you need to cut yourself some slack, forgive yourself and stop feeling guilty.

When a parent is in a nursing home, the burden of their day-to-day care is no longer on you. For that reason you can focus on spending quality time with them, finally. Rather than feeling overwhelmed and anxious while a parent is in your care, you’ll feel relaxed and calm during visits. You’ll be able to build a relationship with them that you both can cherish.

Also, it’s important to remember that your life really does matter, too. It’s just as important for you to take care of your health and psychological well-being as it is to take care of your parent’s. And, at the end of the day remember, guilt won’t change anything. It will just make you feel terrible.

Tips for the first few days

When you finally move your parent into a nursing home, there is always a lot happening at the beginning. The actual moving process, signing all the papers, meeting staff members and seeing the other residents. Everything seems to happen at once and this is when feelings of guilt are easily magnified. Just remember, these are your first reactions and they happen under stressful circumstances. Give yourself time to adjust and you will soon see things in a different light.

Here are some tips to help make the first few days a little easier for you and your parent:

  • Get to know the people who are caring for your parent before you move in.
  • Get to know the other residents by visiting in advance.
  • Help caregivers and other residents get to know your parent by making introductions and having a chat about personal stories.
  • Get to know the program at the nursing home and what activities are available.
  • Take part in some of the activities with your parent so they won’t feel shy the first few days.
  • Set up a visiting schedule for all family members if possible. You don’t need to be there every day, all day.
  • Make plans in advance for how you’ll leave the nursing home the first day. This will be the most difficult time emotionally and there is no reason to make it harder on yourself. Discuss the topic with staff members to see what they suggest. They might stay with your parent as you are leaving and say good-bye together. Or, it may be easier to leave while your parent is happy and involved in a task or chatting with another resident during a meal.
  • Discuss your feelings with friends, family or the social worker at the nursing home. Don’t become overwhelmed with guilt and keep it to yourself. It is important to have a strong support system.

Today, more and more people are choosing the option of nursing home care for their parents, and it is natural to struggle with feelings of guilt. But, it is important to get over the feelings of guilt, know that you’re doing your best and remember that you are only human, after all.

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