Am I a good (daughter/son/partner/husband/wife)?

It started as a pleasant lunch with a friend. As we jumped from topic to topic, my friend revealed that she felt guilty living 500 miles away from her parents because she couldn’t help them with every day issues. It also made her sad that her older sister had the role of the primary caregiver without her help. My friend choked up. I choked up because no matter what you do or where you live we all have mixed feelings about caring for a family member and whether we are doing a good job, our best job.

What’s running in the background of our minds might sound something like this

A good husband never gets mad at his wife, especially when she’s sick.
A good partner doesn’t complain about new tasks that come with her partner’s illness.
A good daughter never wishes that her mother’s suffering and her suffering were over.
A good son always answers the phone when he sees that his father is calling.
A good wife isn’t embarrassed when her husband is awkward and confused at a party.

When we run scripts that are causing us anxiety and guilt, we owe it to ourselves to look at them directly. Most of the power of these scripts comes from the fact that they run in the background of our other thoughts and go unchallenged and unquestioned.

The biggest risk is that we may not be defining these roles ourselves or defining them consciously at all. Of course feedback from other people in our lives is important but we must be in the lead of identifying unspoken expectations from others and ourselves. If we don’t examine these expectations, we will be plagued with guilty feelings that we may not fully understand.

Some ways to cope

Set your own realistic standards for being a good (daughter/son/partner/husband/wife). What does your role mean to you? When you let others define your role, you may be held to standards that don’t match your values.

Proactively define what is “enough” and which caregiving activities you plan to take on and which you don’t. This list may change over time and that’s ok. Don’t forget to check in regularly to see if you have started doing things you didn’t plan on. How do you feel about it? If it doesn't feel good, what steps will you take to change things?

When someone, anyone acknowledges what you are doing or perhaps even says “You are a good (daughter/son/partner/husband/wife)”. Stop and try to take the compliment in. I know you may feel awkward or want to say “No I’m not” all the while thinking guilty thoughts.

When you received criticism, evaluate it for it’s importance. If there are any facts or suggestions that are helpful, use them to make changes and let go of the rest. Keep reminding yourself…I am responsible for my feelings, choices and actions. I am not responsible for the feelings, choices and actions of others.

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