Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches
Guilt. Anxiety. Frustration. Isolation. If you’re caring for an aging parent, these are feelings you know all too well. And while these feelings are understandable and normal given the stress and demands of caregiving, there is a way to find relief if negative emotions are overtaking your life—get together regularly with other caregivers in a supportive atmosphere.
That’s what Sue LaVal did. She joined Daughterhood—a group for caregivers that meets monthly at The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills. Daughterhood provides LaVal and other members with connection, camaraderie and insightful caregiving tips. It’s even helped her shed some of the negative feelings that come along with caregiving, especially guilt.
“Last month, a handout about guilt was passed out. I carry a lot of guilt and don’t know what to do with it,” said LaVal. “Reading the handout and finding many comforting phrases such as ‘It’s not your job to make everyone comfortable’ or ‘Your being is more important than you doing’ have lessened the amount of guilt I carry when it comes to making my mom happy and fulfilling all her requests.”
LaVal isn’t the only one who’s found relief from negative emotions like guilt after becoming a part of Daughterhood. Daughterhood member Diane Ryan says the circle has helped her become more realistic about what she is capable of as a caregiver and what she needs to do to take care of herself too.
“I’m trying to feel less guilty about not being able to ‘do it all’ and allowing myself to still have some kind of a personal life,” said Ryan.
The Birches’ Daughterhood circle is just one of many Daughterhood circles around the country that helps children (especially women) cope with the demands of caring for their aging parents. These circles, along with an informational caregiving website called Daughterhood.org, are the brainchild of Anne Tumlinson, who has worked in the field of aging research and health policy for over 20 years.
After helping friends get through tough situations with their aging parents and navigate the bureaucracy of the healthcare system, Tumlinson realized she had information and resources that could make life easier for caregivers across the country.
She was especially struck by the negative effect caregiving demands were having on the women in her life. In fact, as she eventually learned, seven out of ten children caring for aging parents are women. That’s why Tumlinson decided to call her project Daughterhood. Daughterhood, like motherhood, is a stage of life where women find themselves overloaded with the demands of caring for others, but they may not have the same social support and community resources mothers have.
That said, even though Daughterhood was designed for women caring for aging parents, anyone is welcome, including men and people caring for family members other than their parents. Diane Ryan, for example, cares for her husband. And although she admits her experiences and feelings are different than children caring for parents, she still finds value in their monthly meetings.
“I enjoy the talking, the listening, the empathy, the validation of my feelings and the camaraderie with people who are almost in the same boat,” said Ryan.
All Daughterhood members seem to agree that one of the best benefits of the group is the ability to share their experiences and what they’ve learned with one another. Some members have been caring for an aging parent for years, while others have just begun. These different levels of experience make the circle a great place for teaching and learning.
Daughterhood member Diane Borrowman, for example, is new to caregiving, and she says, so far, she’s learned a lot from other member’s experiences.
“My mom was diagnosed with moderate dementia last September. It’s nice to get others’ input on the struggles we all go through, and helpful tips on how to care for her,” said Borrowman. “It’s a huge benefit to listen and hear others advice on how to deal with dementia because I’ve never had to go through this, and I look forward every month to learning something new.”
On the flip side, more experienced members like Diane Ryan feel good about helping those who are just beginning their caregiving journey.
“I had been looking for support of any kind for some time—someone to talk too who was experiencing the same issues and frustrations I was going through, to not feel so alone,” said Diane Ryan. “But I also enjoy trying to help others who may not be quite at the stage I am at in this journey.”
In the end, regardless of how long they’ve been caregiving or who they are caring for, Daughterhood members gain something from attending the circle that’s invaluable to them all—the feeling of not being alone.
“The group is so sweet and understanding and everyone has their own stories that we can all relate to,” said Borrowman. “Knowing that we are not alone during this process has been wonderful.”
Daughterhood is a small group who gets together regularly to hang out, relax, and help each other navigate caring for aging parents. The group usually meets at 7:00 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at The Birches Assisted Living in Clarendon Hills. If you’d like to participate, you can RSVP by calling 630-789-1135. For more information on Daughterhood, check out The Birches’ event calendar or the Daughterhood website.