Dear Dr. Yael:
I feel extremely guilty about my elderly father and am filled with anger toward my sisters and brothers in regards to his care.
First the latter: My five siblings give me, the youngest child and one of three daughters, little help in caring for our father, instead they provide me with constant advice and criticism. Unfortunately I am the only one who takes care him (I visit every day); my father lives near me and has a full-time attendant. Some of my siblings live nearby and others further away, but they only visit him occasionally – and basically expect me to do everything.
My three brothers feel that as sons, they are obligated to do less. My two sisters claim that they are busy with their married children. Well, I also have married children but somehow find the time for our elderly father. One of the things that angers me is the remarks they make. For example, they’ll say that since I was his favorite child, I am the one obligated to care for him. As our parents were wonderful to all of us, I cannot understand how they can turn their backs on him now – just when he needs us most.
At the same time, I feel guilty that I don’t do more for him. My father complains a lot, causing me to sometimes become angry with him. I find it hard to spend a lot of time with him, although I visit every day, take him to doctors, cook his favorite foods, and make sure he has everything he needs.
I need your advice on how to deal with my anger toward my siblings and guilt about my father.
Angry and Guilty
Dear Angry and Guilty:
It is amazing that one father is able to care for six children, but six children cannot care for one father.
I am impressed by your devotion to your father and your adherence to the mitzvah of kibud av. What I would suggest is that in dealing with your father’s complaining try to validate his feelings. You may find that this helps decrease his complaining. Often when people complain, the natural response from the person forced to listen is to say, “It is not so bad, so stop complaining.” This usually makes them complain more. Saying to your father, “I know how you must feel; it is not easy to feel that way,” may make him realize that he’s being heard and understood. As a result, he may complain less.
With respect to your siblings, you should confront them in a nice manner. At a minimum, you will feel better having told them how upset you are and why. They may be rationalizing to themselves that you enjoy having all of the responsibility.
Use the “I feel” message, as others are usually less defensive when confronted with that strategy. Say something like, “I know that you all have busy lives, Baruch Hashem, and you probably do not realize that I feel I end up having to take care of most of Daddy’s needs. Let’s make a schedule whereby everyone can chip in, so that none of us feels overwhelmed.” If they don’t increase their involvement in your father’s care, at least make it clear that you feel bad when you receive their advice and criticism, especially when you are the one handling most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, it is generally the one who does the most who winds up receiving the most criticism. But please take solace in the sechar that you are receiving for honoring your father.
If you validate your father’s feelings and he continues to complain, validate your own feelings. This does not mean that you should limit your visiting time with him and beat yourself up for sometimes feeling annoyed and frustrated. Remember that taking care of an older person is very difficult, as he or she often does not feel well and thus may be more critical and irritable. With this in mind, let yourself off the hook when you are feeling upset.
While it is certainly important to treat your father with loving care and not show him your annoyance in any way, if you sometimes feel that way (which is only normal), do something nice for yourself instead of feeling guilty. Also, remember two things: your reward may not be evident in this world, and your children will probably accord you the same respect that you are demonstrating to your father.