This piece is for parents, guardians and other adults who have a personal care-giving relationship with a young person who has a chronic health condition. I’ll collectively refer to this intended audience throughout the post as “caregivers”.
The topic of this blog post might make you very uncomfortable, but I hope you’ll hear me out. Today I’m talking about when caregivers feel resentment towards the young person they care for. No matter how much you love your young person, there may be times when they hurt your feelings, piss you off, or irritate you to no end. Over time, these feelings can build to high levels of resentment that distress both you and your young person.
I’m here today to tell you that it’s completely normal for these negative emotions to come up in a caregiving relationship, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent or caregiver. In this series, I’ll explore why that is and the first step to easing your discomfort.
When I talk to adult caregivers about resenting the teen or young adult they care for, the responses I receive tend to fall into one of the following four buckets:
1. Dismissive: “I can see how other people might feel that way, but I definitely don’t.”
2. Indignant: “I would never! How dare you think I would hate my child.”
3. Unsure: “I don’t know. Sometimes I get frustrated, but I just need to be more patient.”
4. Recognition: “Oh yeah, I’m angry. All the time. Please help.”
Do you recognize yourself in any of these? If so, you’ve come to the right place. I have something for each type of reaction. But first, no matter which of the four you identify with, there are basic concepts everyone should understand about conflict and how it can lead to resentment.
Conflict is a normal and healthy part of any relationship, including the relationship between a parent and child and between a caregiver and the young person they care for. Humans are not polite robots à la Stepford Wives who always get along because they’ve been programmed with identical values. Neither are we mind readers who can effortlessly figure out what other people want or need. We disagree, we misunderstand, we hurt other people’s feelings, and we have our feelings hurt in return (If that paragraph is so obvious that it’s dull, please stick with me — I do not intend to waste your time with platitudes).
… And there sure are MANY opportunities for that when you’re caring for someone with a mystery health problem or chronic illness:
You’re exhausted and overwhelmed: On top of caregiver duties, you may be working a job (or two) outside the home, raising other children, and/or caring for an aging family member.
You’re still figuring each other out: Parents returning from military service, incarceration, or other long absences may be adjusting to how their child has changed and reestablishing their relationship. Foster and adoptive parents may be getting to know their young person for the very first time, and are still learning the basics of their personality, preferences, etc.
Emotions are in flux: If your child is a teen, they may be going through physical and hormonal changes that are uncomfortable and lead to unpredictable moods. Or maybe you yourself are going through physical and hormonal changes. Or both.
You’re reluctant roommates: If your child is a young adult, they may be moving back home after having lived independently for a while. All parties got used to a certain level of independence, but now you find yourselves giving it up in order to share space. On top of that, your sleep schedules, cleanliness practices, and other habits may be moving towards a head on collision.
You’re together 24/7: You are up in your young person’s business at a time when they crave independence and privacy. Instead of watching them head out on their own to school, work, or social activities every day, you may be making their breakfast, helping them shower or brush their teeth, driving them everywhere they need to go, and spending long hours together at medical appointments. It’s a degree of “togetherness” that neither of you ever wanted.
And that’s just to name a few.
With all these dynamics going on, I hope you’ll agree with me that some form of conflict at some point in time is inevitable.
In addition to being normal and inevitable, resolving conflict is HARD. The first step, which is to identify and accept our emotions, is particularly difficult. Many of us come from families where emotions were either suppressed (“we don’t have time to deal with this right now”) or repressed (your unconscious mind blocks the emotion without you ever realizing it). These bottled up emotions show up in all kinds of forms, including silence, despair, numbness, anxiety, passive aggressiveness, increased alcohol/drug use, shouting, or abuse.
The antidote to suppression and repression is to identify the emotion, accept the emotion, and allow yourself to fully feel the emotion (note that acceptance and feeling are different than expressing an emotion), which require us to do something we may have never seen and use skills we may have never learned. It also requires us to be vulnerable, to face emotions that fill us with fear, guilt, or shame.
Since most of us are regular humans and not perfectly healed beings at the highest stage of enlightenment, this is a tall order. Because we're not able to fully resolve all the conflicts in our lives right away, we will often experience the resentment that comes from living with unresolved conflicts.
Do you see where I’m going with this? If conflict is normal and inevitable, and resolving conflict is hard, then unresolved conflict is normal and inevitable. If unresolved conflicts leads to negative emotions, then negative emotions are… Get ready for it… NORMAL and INEVITABLE. If you feel resentment towards the young person you care for, it doesn't mean you are a bad person or failing in your duties as a caregiver.
In the next post, I'll share key concepts and resources for each of the four different ways caregivers experience resentment.
Are you tired of feeling angry, frustrated, or unappreciated? If so, I can help!