Calling all parents: Why is being a caregiver a bigger emotional drain than parenting one's own children?

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I've never had children so I can't compare the experiences directly. However, it seems that since a majority (I assume) of people careing for aging parents are themselves parents, that caregiving leads to burnout so easily while parenting children, while at times exasperating, is as a whole a rewarding experience. Or to put it another way, one of the other caregiver web pages states, "[Caregiving] may be the hardest jobs you’ll ever have, and it can take time to adjust and come to terms with it. But try going it alone and you’ll quickly hit bottom." I've never heard any similar statement about raising children. (I've been asked more than once why I wasn't interested in raising a family: the short answer is medical/genetic reasons combined with my own mental-health handicaps.)

The armchair psychologist in me wonders why a majority of adults have loved bring up their kids - "terrible two's," teenage years, school issues and all - yet caring for a senior or disabled adult is almost universally taxing to the point of being hazardous. In summary, what differences have you seen between your child(ren) and your adult-in-need?

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That should be Fall and then Winter. We are STUCK in winter here in Minnesota and I guess my mind is as well. I know you all can relate. Love and hugs to all of you!
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As the mother of a teenager and the caregiver of an elderly mother, it is upsetting at times when people don't understand the difference between these stages of life. They are not the same at all. I'm a God-believing person, though not a church going sort. I take comfort in His word in Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; ...

It gives me comfort, that He knows and understands what He has given us and the blessings and burdens life entails. It is NOT easy the days and decisions we have to endure. Each situation and individual is different. I had my mom placed in an AL and a lot of people on here would say I'm not honoring God by doing that. "Your parents took care of you when you were young and that's your place now."

Not to the detriment of my marriage and my child. I truly believe on does not risk those dear relationships and their own health and sanity for the sake of an unreasonable and demanding parent.

I visit my mom every other day, bring her meals, do her bills and taxes, laundry, every other thing under the sun. I am honoring her and even though she is in an AL, I am still exhausted.

My son is now driving, in high school and has a job. He is looking forward to life and college.

Mom is losing her memory, has many health problems and I cared for my dad while he died of brain cancer.

There is no comparison, except for the fact that we are all at a 'season' in our lives. Hopefully all of us we'll get to see Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. And there will be joy and love in each of them.
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You've gotten some very, very perceptive answers here. To me the big, huge, gigantic difference between raising children and caring for an adult who cannot care for him or herself, is the reward -- what you have to look forward to. Compare some basic milestones. Baby taking a first step is a Big Deal for the parents -- so much so that many day care centers will not tell a parent that Sally took a step. Instead they say, "It looks like Sally is ready to walk! I'll bet if you encourage her she'll be taking that first step today or tomorrow." Compare that to the Adult Day Health Program director informing you that your parent used the center's spare walker all day today and you should get one as soon as possible. No one looks forward to the day Mother needs a wheelchair, but it's better than the day she can no longer get out of bed. These are not milestones to gladden the spirit and lighten your load and make it all worthwhile.

How thrilling it is when baby first says "ma-ma" or "da-da" and applies those terms to the correct people! How heartbreaking it is when Dad no longer knows who you are.

With a child you look forward to the start of school, and graduations, and proms, and engagements, and weddings, and maybe grandchildren. With a parent you dread the next fall, the further dementia decline, the fading memories, hospitalizations, rehab, and finally death.

Elders may do childish things but they are not children. They have a lifetime of experiences and you cannot treat them as children. And if they have dementia they do not learn from their experiences or your teaching.

Don't get me wrong -- there are many satisfactions to caregiving, just as my friend who is a hospice nurse finds great satisfaction in that role. But anyone who thinks that caregiving an elder is just like raising a child except for size either has never done both or is at least slightly delusional.
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There are many answers. When you have children, you are boss. When you have parents, they are boss. Children are generally sweet and playful. Elders often are anything but. Children don't talk 24/7 about how bad they feel. Elders often do. Children don't have dementia. Elders often do. It is distateful to change the diaper of a baby. I won't say anything about elders. When a child falls down, you give him/her a hug and put a bandAid on their knew. When an elder falls down, you call 911. Children have to take medicines once or twice a year maybe. Elders have to take them once or twice a day. I could go on, but I know I'm preaching to the choir here. I do have to mention another big one -- When they're 4 years old, children qualify for free daycare and school that will give parents a break for the next 14 years. Elders may qualify for a nursing home or assisted living that will drain their life savings plus some.
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Maybe it's because caregiving so often takes the form of holding back decline. If someone can't live independently because they can't clean, cook, shop - then if someone takes on those functions the elder continues to enjoy living in their own home. But they really can't - it's taking on the adult functions of someone else. But with a child the role is to help them develop more function all the time, the maximum responsibility is at the start and lessens every year. With caregiving the responsibility increases every year and unless one a has a very very cooperative parent - this responsibility increases without any actual authority recognized by the parent. Responsibility without authority is known as one of the prime causes of workplace stress and burnout...seems like it would apply to any part of life.
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Parents chose to have children. Becomeing a caregiver to an elderly parent is rarely a choice, but more a necessity. Parenting a child is a joy. Parenting an elderly parent is heart wretching. The terrible two's is a walk in the park compared to the ravages of dementia. Teenages mature to adults. Elderly parents regress to childish behavior. Caring for a child lasts about 18 years. Caring for an elderly parent can last as long as 30 years. Caring for someone in your 20's & 30's is easier that in your 50's & 60's. Diapering a 14 pounder is a lot easier that someone 120 pounds and up. Watching your elderly parents slowly diminish toward death hurts more deeply than watching your children grow and move out into the world. Parent/child role reversal is emotionally devastating where neither can ever come to terms with it.
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Why is it harder? Well b/c I was 25 years old when I was raising kids. I am over 60 now. I was healthy then, now I am not. I had a job and money then, now I live at the poverty level. I was in control then, now I am not, poa makes all the decisions and I have to go along with them.
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