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Were you not able to care for your elderly parents at home, or did they decide to move into a retirement home by themselves? You may be feeling guilty. Here's what to do about that guilt.

My parents had been struggling with a wide array of health issues — including several bouts of cancer, hip replacement, and thyroid operations — when they came to the conclusion that living independently was becoming too hard. Though my sisters and I constantly visited them and helped them with their housework, they could no longer cope in their eighties. Still sound of mind, they simply decided that it was time to look into retirement homes. 

Not being nearly as mobile as they once were, they asked us kids to look at various places. Together, we decided on a retirement home, and they moved in when a place became available. Though downsizing their belongings to fit into the comparatively very large two-bedroom senior apartment that would become their next home was sad, my parents made this decision on their own. It was a semi-independent retirement home in which nursing staff was available around the clock, and meals would be delivered to them. They did what they believed was best for them.

We were a close-knit family, and though my parents never asked to move in with one of us and never wanted to, they were all too aware that they could count on the same type of support they had received pre-retirement home once they did make the move. 

We were lucky. Almost two-thirds of adults who "send" their elderly parents into a care home feel guilty about that decision, research shows. As life expectancy is increasing, so is the kind of dilemma in which adult children — usually in their fifties — ask themselves who can best meet the needs of their aging parents, and where. 

Whereas multi-generational living was the norm until recently, today's generation of adults with ailing and elderly parents is different. With increased numbers of women working outside the home, who's there to tend to elders full-time?

Our elders deserve a dedicated team of professionals that is able to meet their needs as they arise. Though deciding that you're not able to look after your elderly parents at home can be in their interest as much as yours, guilt can — and research suggests does, more often than not — result.

Should it, though? As an active caregiver in your elderly parents' lives, there are plenty of reasons why you need not feel guilt for outsourcing those parts of their care you can't be responsible for yourself. If you are consumed by guilt regardless, here are some tips to help. 

Why Are You Feeling Guilty?

Curious how other people approached the topic of experiencing guilt after parents move into a retirement home, I did some Googling. Plenty of "touchy-feely" articles show up, articles that call on people whose parents have recently made their moves to:

  • Examine the reasons behind their guilt
  • Have compassion for themselves
  • Reach out to others in similar circumstances
  • Detach from being the primary caregiver in your parents' lives

Though dealing with your own emotions is certainly very important, I'm a more practically-minded person. I assume that your parents either decided to move into a retirement home on their own, like mine did, or that you knew you didn't have the capacity of looking after them at home. In the first case, guilt should be redundant. If you don't have a downstairs bathroom, all adults in your home are working full-time or beyond, you're not physically equipped to deal with ailing parents, or have other practical reasons for which you're not able to look after your parents yourself around the clock, the same holds true. 

Liberating yourself from emotional guilt around the fact that your parents are in a nursing home isn't the issue at all, after all — the real issue lies in ensuring that your parents have the best quality of life they can have, now. 
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