Making the decision to put the person we care for in a care home is rarely easy. It can take many weeks or months to make peace with the range of emotions that follow.
Some days it can feel like an almighty relief to know that the person we’re caring for will have someone to keep them safe full-time. Other days, we can be consumed by a hefty dose of guilt about the situation. Plus, there can be worry and concern about whether we’ve made the right decision.
While friends and family might reassure us about the logistics of the situation, the emotional response is rarely clear-cut. Whatever stage we’re at with finding care for a loved one, it can be soothing to know that feelings of guilt are common. Many of us have been in the same shoes.
When our focus is on the person we’re caring for, our own wellbeing needs can slip to the bottom of the pile, but taking time to understand our emotional responses can help make the decision rest easier on our minds.
This blog post shares tips for managing these feelings, but for practical advice, we also have guides on:
Why do we feel guilt?
Guilt is part of our human nature. It’s a normal emotional response to the situations we encounter in day-to-day life. This could be feeling guilty about not checking in with our friends, saying no to colleagues or forgetting an important birthday.
At its core, guilt involves feeling sadness or remorse about something we’ve said, done or neglected to do. It’s essentially our inner compass - often described as being ‘felt in the gut’ - that informs us that something we’ve done doesn’t align with our morals.
In many ways, this type of thinking - dwelling on our actions and responses - is healthy. It signposts when we’ve done something wrong. It also presents us with a learning opportunity to regulate our behaviour. But while there are many situations where we feel an appropriate sense of regret, we can also feel guilty about making decisions that we know make the best logical sense. Plus, we can read the situation with our hearts rather than our head. We might take on an amount of personal guilt that’s disproportionate to what we deserve.
“I'm really struggling with guilt, anger and remorse. Although I know that I can't meet mum’s needs anymore, and feel she should have been in care for some time, she's hating it and blaming me.”
For example, if a parent regularly falls and hurts themselves, we may feel they would be safer in full-time care. Still, we can feel remorse about removing them from their home, even when we understand it’s in their best interests.
In this way, we mistakenly assume responsibility for the guilt, when all we’re simply trying to do is protect them. This type of excess guilt can be detrimental if we don’t take steps to resolve it. Left unchecked, it can contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety.
Why do we feel guilty about arranging a care home for someone?
There are many reasons why we might feel guilt over choosing a care home for someone you care for:
1. Feeling like we’ve failed as a carer
Caring is not a competition, but apps like Instagram - where people only tend to post happy moments - can easily drag us into the comparison trap. We might feel as though other carers are coping so much better than us or that our best isn’t good enough.
Remember that deciding to choose a care home doesn’t undo the brilliant care and attention in looking after a loved one that we’ve done up to now. For peer support, our Mobilise Facebook group is a supportive and honest place. Here, we can speak to other people in a similar position who understand what we’re going through.
Residents and Relatives Association also offer a listening ear for us and older people in care. We can get in touch with their helpline on 0207 359 8136 (Monday to Friday 9.30am-1pm, and Thursdays 6-8pm) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Feeling shame around accepting help from others
When we’ve cared for someone for a long time, it can be difficult to accept help and ‘let go’ of the primary caregiver role. Relinquishing our duties can be tough.
Usually, a set of events will have led us to this place, such as an increasing number of falls, or the person we care for, not looking after themselves properly.
Still, there can be a sense of shame in asking for extra help - even when we know we’re human and that we can’t take on everything alone.
“If someone made the decision for me that would take some of the guilt [away]. Making it on my own is a whole new ball game.”
3. Feeling guilty that we need some time for ourselves
In the months leading up to arranging residential care, our own needs are likely not being met. We might frequently be making visits during the day, or perhaps we’ve had to give up our work. We might be attending to night time calls.
Or we may just generally be stretching ourselves too thinly. This can understandably lead to frustration, resentment and upset.
While we should therefore feel relief for getting more time for ourselves, we may be surprised to feel guilty about our newfound freedom. We may feel undeserving of the extra time, or unable to properly relax.
“My father’s condition deteriorated very quickly. We originally thought he’d only spend a few weeks in a care home after a hospital stay.”
“My sister-in-law was quite keen for him to come home, as it was during lockdown, so we weren’t able to visit very often. Shortly after though, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and it became clear that it wasn’t going to work, as dad needed full-time care.”
“It was a difficult choice as other members of the family weren’t keen on dad being in a home, but I just had to remind myself of the practical reasons he needed to be there.”
Seven tips for dealing with our guilt
When moving day comes, it’s natural to feel a big sense of loss. We might not just miss the person, but also miss our caring role and our usual day-to-day routines.
It’s also a significant moment in our caring journey. Anticipatory grief is common, as our relationship with the person we care for changes.
If the person we cared for lived with us, the house can feel emptier than usual and it can take a time to adjust to our new normal. Feelings of guilt can linger too. Acknowledging your feelings and being proactive with your wellbeing is the first step to feeling better:
1. Set up a plan to visit
Simply because a loved one is now in a home doesn’t mean our role is any less important. Our reliability and support matter now more than ever.
It can be useful to create a regular visitation schedule to ease feelings of both guilt and loneliness. Spend an evening planning some fun, creative days out. Focus on finding activities that are enjoyable and uplifting, rather than dwelling on any feelings of sadness.
A trip to the garden centre, a coffee date in a new cafe or a local painting class are all great, affordable options. With some dates plotted in the calendar, it’s assuring to know that we’ll be reinforcing our carer bond and creating new, happy memories.
“Mum’s care home was a 30 minute drive from where she lived before, in a totally new area. Taking mum to the lovely cafes near her new home was a nice way for us to feel like we were both ‘exploring’ the area together.”
2. Speak to a therapist
Talking is an important way of dealing with our emotions. Sometimes it’s easier to chat to a stranger than someone we know.
Talking therapy is a judgement-free space. It gives you the opportunity to chat, cry, shout, laugh or just think.
When we feel the full weight of our carer responsibilities, it’s an opportunity to take and breath and look at life in a different way.
A GP can refer you to talking therapy services. Waiting lists for NHS therapy can be very long and private sessions can be expensive (around £50 - £70 per session). Low-cost options are available in the meantime. For instance, UKCN offer individual, affordable therapy on a sliding scale from £18-30 depending on income.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)-based apps, that are designed using the principles of talking therapy, can be a much-needed balm too. We like Happify, MindDoc and Headspace, which has a helpful course on navigating change.
“Care homes have different types of contracts. You can sign up for a short-term residential stay before committing to a long-term arrangement. This can really help with easing feelings of guilt as you can try it out to see if it benefits you. If not, they can always come home and you can look at different types of care support.”
3. Grieve our loss
Caring for someone is a big part of our identity. We form a close bond with the person we’re caring for. There may also be parts of caring that we really like and miss.
Rather than dismissing our loss, it’s important to ‘feel’ these feelings. The term ‘toxic positivity’ relates to the type of mindset habit where we constantly strive to look on the bright side. While being optimistic has its uses, hiding from our feelings is not always healthy. It means we can fail to process important emotions like sadness, fear and grief, that ultimately help us to heal.
Some of us may also feel no guilt whatsoever, especially if life had become very difficult in the months leading up to choosing a care home. This is a completely valid emotional response. It’s also one that we shouldn’t feel ashamed about.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel in this situation, but we can make the process easier by allowing ourselves to just ‘be’.
“For us, it was an easy decision, as we saw the health of our loved one deteriorating and the care becoming more complex. We knew it needed to be done and despite that, it was hard to explain to that person due to dementia. [I] feel guilty that visiting is still restricted for us so that’s hard, but [I] know they are in the best place possible and receiving care we were unable to give.”
4. Doing something positive for ourselves
When we are in the thick of caring, our attention can be so focussed on someone else's needs that we lose something of ourselves in the process. Us humans are really good at prioritising ourselves when it’s just us. But busy carer responsibilities leave us with little time for ourselves.
Care home support gives us some extra time for the things we love. Taking ourselves out on a date can be an empowering and uplifting way to rediscover our passions.
It might be a class for that old hobby we miss. It might be a film we’ve been wanting to see but haven’t had the time to watch. It might be a shopping day or a restorative yoga class.
The greatest benefit about dates with ourselves is that we can take our time. There's no agenda. No one's rushing us to be somewhere. This can be really novel after many months or years of caring.
“I do scrapbooking as a hobby. I love it as it’s so relaxing and it's not expensive. I have done loads of different ones and keep them in a folder. When I’m working on them I’m in my happy place.”
5. Accept that we are human
We all have limitations and we all need a break. We should remind ourselves that we are not to blame in this situation - ageing, illness and changing needs are a part of life.
Making this decision also means that we can be better person for the person we care for in the future.
“It’s really hard, but you have to see the benefit for both them and you.”
6. Know that we made the best decision
A frightened or confused person we care for may not always be happy with our decision. They may also use blaming words against us. That’s why it’s good to remind ourselves exactly why we feel a care home is the best place for the person we care for.
Benefits of care homes include safety, companionship, help with medication and peace of mind knowing that your loved one receives care when they need it. They’ll also get nutritious meals and a clean and comfortable space to live in. This can be a huge weight off our minds, and theirs too.
If it’s helpful, we could make a physical list of these care home benefits. We can then stick them to the fridge so we can remind ourselves when worry strikes.
“Dad would say ‘I want to go home’ or ‘I need to get out of here’ which was really unlike him, as he’s usually a calm and quiet gentleman. My mother-in-law was carrying a lot of guilt around it, so I spent a lot of time reassuring her that she’d done the right thing and that he was getting better care in the home.”
7. Seek help and advice if we need it
It’s important to know that our feelings are valid. We are not alone in how we feel. Speak to friends, and family or follow up with your GP if you start to feel overwhelmed with guilt.
Here at Mobilise, we have a community Facebook group where we can share our stories, tips, tears and laughs. We’re a really supportive bunch that are there for each other, each and every day.
We also welcome you to join our Mobilise Cuppas - where we come together to listen and talk. Each Cuppa is a free 45-minute zoom call where we can connect and chat with around 12 other people who are also carers.
When it comes to making decisions around care, it’s rarely easy, but it can make all the difference to know that there are other carers who are here for us.