En español | At times when she talked about her mother, 57-year-old Elaine wore a look of exasperation, even scorn. “She wasn’t there for me and my two younger sisters when we were growing up,” she said during one of our therapy sessions. “She was too busy partying and running around. Our grandmother was our real mother.”
Elaine had dealt with her anger toward her mother for years by keeping an emotional and geographic distance, living over a thousand miles away. But then her mother began having small strokes and, as the oldest child, Elaine felt it was her duty to move back to her hometown to take care of her. Her mother’s behavior during the caregiving years, though, made her angrier than ever. “She orders me around like I owe her something,” she said. “I don’t owe her anything. She didn’t raise me.”
Clearly, not all family relationships are happy ones. As with Elaine, caregivers who had a bad past with care receivers may have an emotionally fraught present with them, especially if caregiving requires frequent, hands-on contact and unending hours in the tight confines of a parent’s home. It’s true that old wounds may heal if a spirit of consideration, cooperation and even forgiveness takes hold. But it is also as likely that those wounds will be reopened by fresh clashes and pain will be inflamed anew. That would make it all the more challenging for even the best-intentioned caregiver to hang in there with providing care.
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