Why I Refused To Be My Parent's Caregiver

Sometimes it’s the only choice.

old woman looking out window Lopolo / Shutterstock

“She’s too perfect,” my mother told my niece when they interviewed the new caregiver on Wednesday. My mother’s new caregiver starts today, and she’s already looking for reasons to fire her as she has her four previous caregivers.

My mother, BB, turns 97 in March and finally realizes the family she’s alienated from isn’t going to jump in and be her unpaid and unappreciated staff.

If BB is going to continue living in her house with her pets, she’ll need some professional help.


Caregivers are incredible

I hear stories from my friends who take care of their elderly parents or read personal accounts of caregiving from other writers like Mary McGrath, and I have huge respect and empathy for what they do every day.

People who aren’t professional caregivers but who do what needs to be done to make a life for their elderly parent or relative a little easier are my heroes. They have to have compassion, physical strength, the ability to handle crises, big and small, and most of all, patience.

I admire them, but I can’t be one of them.

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Caregiving can be a fulfilling experience

For some people, caregiving for their elderly family members is a gift and honor. The caregiver gets to spend precious time with their loved ones before they die.

Caregiving is more than helping people — it’s scheduling, companionship, nursing, housework, cooking, monitoring, and emotional exhaustion. It’s more than a job — it’s a vocation.

If helping people brings you joy and you’re aware of the challenges of caregiving a family member, then go for it.

Limit your expectations

As people age, they often change, so while it’s unlikely that a toxic parent would become a warm, caring individual, it’s not impossible.


However, if you expect your parent to change and that’s what you’re basing your decision on, you’ll end up disappointed. Look at the situation as it is, not how you’d like it to be.

Not everyone should be a caregiver

Many people follow the advice “to cut toxic people out of their life” and may have completely lost contact with their parents. Others, like myself, have minimal contact and prefer to keep it that way.

If you have a family, a demanding job, or a lifetime of resentments, you may not have the capacity to be a caregiver. If you force yourself to do it out of a sense of duty, it’s only going to worsen a bad situation.

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I can’t be my mother’s caregiver. I can talk to her on the phone, order birdseed and peanuts for her online, promise to take care of her animals when she goes, but I can’t live with her, bathe her, or listen to how terrible the world is for hours.

BB has dementia, is verbally abusive, and is fortunate enough to afford professional care — if only she’d accept that she needs it.

People will judge

When you refuse to be a caregiver, there’s judgment; even if they know the situation, they may think you’re shirking your responsibility.

The idea that some parents were narcissists, abusive, or terrible doesn’t matter to those who judge your decisions. They may think you need to rise above the patient’s past behaviors and be the bigger person.


Ignore those who ignore your narrative and think they know what’s best for your life.

You may still feel guilty

You know you made the right decision not to caregiver your parent, but still, you may have regrets.

Imagine a scenario where you took on the role of caregiver. Caregiving is an extremely difficult job in the best of circumstances, and your situation was one filled with rage, instability, and emotional danger?

Looking at the big picture and making a smart decision is healthy for you to go, and it doesn’t matter if other people don’t understand.

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You’ve got to make the decision that’s right for you

Choosing yourself isn’t selfish or shameful.


You want to do the right thing for everybody, but sometimes the correct action is to follow your instincts and ignore what others are trying to guilt you into doing.

Caregiving is stressful, it can affect your relationship, cause mental and physical health issues, and feel like an endless burden. Not everyone is cut out to be a caregiver, and it’s a blessing to know that about yourself.

Pretending that you’re caregiver-material and ignoring your feelings won’t make them go away. Instead, they’ll burn with animosity until the exact wrong moment for them to surface and cause real damage.

Life requires hard choices to be made. We don’t want to force my mother into an assisted care facility, but if she can’t accept this perfect caregiver, then I don’t know what we’re going to do.


Christine Schoenwald is a writer for the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Startup, Tenderly, Fearless She Wrote, MuddyUm.