Dear Carol: My dad lived with me for six months. During the time I was at work, he fell and got hurt twice. He comprehends things just fine, but his memory is bad, probably from years of drinking, though he has since stopped. Dad’s always been a bitter complainer, so something was always wrong with the time I spent, the food I cooked or anything else I did. I tried in-home care, but he wouldn’t let them in the door, so we decided together that assisted living was the best option.
Now, though, he complains about everything there, too. My friends say I need to learn to let go, and they are probably right, but it’s hard. I feel at loose ends and unsure of my footing. — WU.
Dear WU: What you’re going through is hard, but normal for someone who is used to the role of sole caregiver. Rocky as your relationship with your dad’s been, it’s what you’re used to.
Assuming that your dad’s real needs are being met in the care home, I’d suggest that you begin to modify your role in his care. Start by skipping one visit. You could call and tell him that you’ve got plans but that you’ll see him tomorrow. Alert the staff you probably won’t be by so that they can suggest an activity for that time.
Visit the next day as usual but don’t apologize for missing a visit. Wait a day or two and then mention that you are busy the following night, so you won’t be able to stop by until the next day. Continue the gradual weaning process until fewer visits are routine.
As you do this, you’ll still want to keep track of his care. We must be realistic about what a care home can provide, but we also have a right to certain expectations. The assisted living facility needs to know that you are your dad’s advocate. The hardest part is likely to be convincing yourself that he’s fine without you.
Remind yourself that he loves to complain and that isn't likely to change. There’s even a small chance that if you aren’t there every day, he might be less likely to spend your whole visit complaining. Additionally, without your consistent presence, he may attempt to make some friends.
You mentioned your dad’s history of drinking, so I’d like to suggest that you try attending Al-Anon meetings. It’s great that he stopped the alcohol, but his behavior is still a problem and Al-Anon could help you learn strategies for self-care.
The main lesson is that while most of us want to make our parents happy, sometimes nothing we do will accomplish that. In those cases, we must be satisfied with the fact that we stepped up and did what was needed for their care.
That’s what you’ve done. You are still your dad’s touchstone, his advocate and his daughter. This change just means that you have help with your dad and a chance to live your own life, too.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.