Do you have an elderly mother who calls you and says can you come over and do X? and when you say, I can’t today, I have plans, she then says something that makes you feel really guilty for saying no? If so, then know you are not alone. This is a common experience among caregivers.
One reason it happens is caregivers sometimes lose boundaries with the person they are taking care of. Over time, the caregiver loses sight of where he or she stops and the elderly person begins so the relationship becomes one of dependency. The elderly person becomes dependent on the adult children and that is when the co-dependency starts. Caregivers constantly falling in the co-dependency trap of trying to meet all the persons needs and requests while giving up your own family’s needs to take care of the elderly person. One way to know if you are co-dependent with your loved one is: is the caregiving interfering with my own family life? Am I missing my husband’s birthday dinner to take mom to doctor?, Am I arguing with him more over mom and taking care of her? Are my children becoming more distant and resentful towards their grandmother?
Co-dependency can happen very easily and your elderly loved may never be satisfied so no matter how much you do or how often and it never seems to be enough. And that one moment when you can’t go over and help, the elderly person then takes the tactic of trying to make you feel guilty. If you feel guilty, you may be in a co-dependent relationship.
Like co-dependency in an addictive or abusive relationship, caregivers often become angry and resentful with their elderly loved one but not able to express it. Whenever the caregiver tries to speak up, the elderly person acts as if he or she did nothing wrong in asking for your help, acts irrationally and may even through more guilty on you by making statements such as well I was there for you when your husband lost his job 20 years ago!
If you find that you are in a co-dependent relationship with your elderly loved one, you need support. Make sure you talk to friends who have elderly parents as they will probably validate your experience and give you suggestions on how to handle it the next time it comes up. Co-dependency is a very unhealthy way to live and can cause you stress, physical and emotional problems.