Feature Archive

Caring for a Parent

Did I do enough?

WebMD Feature

June 19, 2000 -- Whatever Barbara Levinson did or didn't do for her elderly mother, she felt guilty. First, her mother, Marion, fell and broke her hip. Then she had intestinal surgery. Finally, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Juggling her mother's needs with the demands of a newborn baby, Barbara joined her sister, Lynn Kanter-Levy, in caring for their mother before she died. But while Lynn accepted her own limitations, Barbara could not.

"My sister says we did enough and in reality we probably did. But I think, well, I could have let Mother stay at my house more often," says Levinson. "Maybe that would have made me feel I was doing everything possible. But at the time -- after 14 years of infertility and eight miscarriages -- I just wanted to be with my newborn son. It all seemed overwhelming."

Everyone Feels Inadequate

Levinson has plenty of company in trying to balance love, caregiving, and guilt. Some 52 million Americans care for a disabled or sick family member, according to a 1999 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And although most bear their burden with love, social workers say caregiving is so demanding that most people feel inadequate.

Beware of guilt, experts warn. Eventually, such emotions can extract a heavy toll on the health of the caregiver -- and that hurts everyone involved.