I’ve never tried to portray myself as anywhere near perfect or as having it all together, but one fault that seems abominable and embarrassing to have to admit is that sometimes I resent having my mother-in-law here and caring for her. I mentioned some of the disadvantages of caring for a parent at home about seven paragraphs down here.
I Googled caregiver resentment and came up with some practical, helpful tips, but nothing really for the deeper issues. One post even advised just accepting it as part of the whole package. While I can accept that resentment might naturally arise, I can’t accept that as normal and okay: it’s miserable to live with, but even worse, as a Christian, it’s an evidence of my own selfishness. So then I Googled something along the lines of overcoming resentment as a Christian and looked at several of the articles that came up, but most of them dealt with resentment against someone who has done you wrong and the need to forgive.
So I decided to write down some of the things that help me during those times both so it’s here for me to refer back to when needed and so hopefully it might be a help to someone else. And I am calling it “dealing with” rather than “overcoming” caregiver resentment because, although I’d like to have a conversation like this just once and have that take care of my attitude forever, I’ve found I have to go over these things periodically. I guess that is part of living with a sinful nature and needing to renew one’s mind.
So here are ways to deal with resentment, beginning with the practical and moving on toward the spiritual:
1. Take care of your own health, including getting enough sleep. Everything seems worse if you’re sleep-deprived or dragging because you’re not eating right.
2. Talk to someone. My husband and I feel free to talk honestly with each other, and he’s not offended that I do get frustrated with the situation sometimes. I know I have an open door to talk with him about it whenever needed.
3. Get away from the situation sometimes. I am thankful we do have a caregiver here in the mornings so I can run errands or take care of other things, and occasionally we’ll have someone come in for an evening or stay longer on a Saturday so we can have an outing.
4. Remember what brought you to this place. As we trace our history with my mother-in-law’s care, we come again to the same conclusion, that this is the best situation for her at this stage. There may come a time when one or both of us become unable to care for her or her needs become greater than what we can manage at home, but for now, this is best.
5. Remember that caring for a loved one at home used to be the norm before assisted living facilities and nursing homes became widespread, and it still is in some countries.
6. Remember her care of you or your husband for so many years, and look at this as an opportunity to repay her love and care.
7. Remember it could be worse. My mother-in-law is not hard to get along with at all. Some of the residents we encountered in assisted living or the nursing home perhaps made us appreciate that fact even more.
8. Take it a day at a time, or a moment at a time. If we think, “How many years will I have to do this?” we can feel defeated and depressed. All we have to do is deal with this moment, this day, and trust God’s grace will be sufficient for all the days ahead.
9. Think how you would want to be regarded and treated if you were in the same situation.
10. Accept it as God’s will. Maybe you didn’t have time to sort through options, as we did, to come to the conclusion to bring an elderly parent home, or maybe there are extenuating circumstances that compound the resentment you feel. Maybe you don’t have a parent at home, but you’re the only sibling in town to visit them or oversee their care in a facility. Maybe it is even time to do something different. But for this moment right now, this is God’s will for you, and if you surrender it to Him, He will provide the grace to deal with it. “In acceptance lieth peace,” a poem by Amy Carmichael attests.
11. Pray. Sometimes just before going into my mother-in-law’s room to change her, I pray that I might be “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness,” part of Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-13. Or, as the ESV puts it, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” That encompasses so much: that I need His strength, longsuffering, and patience, that He has the “glorious power” to give it, and that He can help me to go beyond just acting out of duty, but He can enable me to serve with joy. I also frequently pray that He will help me have a more loving, unselfish heart.
12. Remember the Christian life is one of service, not self-focus. Claudia Barba said in The Monday Morning Club, “The Christlike life has nothing at all to do with satisfying, coddling, or promoting self, but everything to do with being poured out for others” (p. 55). You see it in the life of Christ and Paul and others in the Bible both in instruction and in example. That doesn’t mean we’re doormats or martyrs or that we can never we can never do anything just for fun. But our primary purpose is serving Him by serving others. Some verses that help in this regard are:
Now we exhort you, brethren…comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all. (I Thessalonians 5:14).
Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward (Matthew. 10:42).
To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews. 13:16).
God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister (Hebrews. 6:10).
So after [Jesus] had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).
With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men (Ephesians 6:7).
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9)
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).
13. Accept this as my primary ministry. This is one area I struggle with the most. As the nest starts emptying, though we miss our kids intensely, we begin to look to other things that have been put on the back burner for a while: maybe now we can write that book, get that degree, travel, sew up all that fabric or complete all those projects. But now we’re tied down again. Or maybe some have had to step back from other ministries at church in order to care for a parent. We need to remind ourselves that this is not a hindrance to our ministry: it is our ministry. Even limitations set the parameters of our ministry. Elisabeth Elliot has said:
This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.
I don’t mean to reduce caring for a parent to a “job,” but I believe we can substitute “ministry” for “job” there.
I hope some of these are helpful for any reader facing any kind of resentment in your situation, and I’d be happy to hear any other thoughts or tips you might have.