Respite care is a useful resource that can bring a much-needed break to a caregiver. Unfortunately, it can also be accompanied by guilt.

By guest blogger, Lee Elliott


Woman lying in a hammock in a garden and enjoying a book reading

It’s completely normal for caregivers to experience the need for a periodic break from their duties. It’s also not uncommon for caregivers to face a feeling of guilt for doing so.

The guilt associated with respite care is as real as respite care itself. Leaving a loved one in the care of a stranger while you recharge your battery with a vacation, catch up on work or spend some time alone? It sounds so … okay. And yet so many caregivers continue to suffer from respite care guilt.

The first thing to know is that opting for respite care is perfectly healthy. Caregiving is a time-consuming, challenging and sometimes stressful responsibility — not too different from a full-time career. In fact, caregiving has been valued at more than $400 billion annually if provided by professionals. And when you throw in variables such as having to also take after your own home, children and career, it’s easy to see why respite care is so necessary.

Why Caregivers Should Take Respite Care

Caregiver burnout is very real and those that overexert themselves are more prone to suffering from it. But preventing burnout isn’t the only reason why caregivers are encouraged to take advantage of respite care from time to time.

Respite care can provide a caregiver an opportunity to:

  • Catch up on errands or household chores.
  • Spend valuable time with a spouse, child or other family member.
  • Cultivate friendships and other personal relationships.
  • Interact with other caregivers and share experiences and advice.
  • Engage in personal hobbies and activities.

Advantages of Respite Care

There are a number of advantages to respite care for both the caregiver and the person they are looking after. Understanding these advantages can help in processing any guilt that a caregiver may feel for utilizing respite care.

For the caregiver:

  1. The caregiver’s immune system can receive a boost by allowing them a chance to catch up on sleep, eat some healthy meals and clear some stress.
  2. The caregiver’s attitude and spirits can be refreshed and allow the caregiver to return to their duties with a fresh outlook.
  3. The caregiver can be given a chance to take a step back and gain a new perspective of the situation.
  4. The caregiver can alleviate the social isolation and depression that so often accompanies the responsibility.
  5. The caregiver can maintain their relationships with their spouse and children, relationships that can be easily strained by the demands of caregiving.

For the patient:

  1. The patient is given an opportunity to develop a relationship with someone new and experience some greater variety of people in their life.
  2. The patient will continue to have all of their needs met and not undergo a feeling of neglect.
  3. At-home respite care can serve as a gradual and comfortable transition into an assisted living or nursing home.
  4. Just like the caregiver, the patient can also benefit physically, mentally and emotionally from taking a break from the relationship and allowing for a fresh perspective to take effect.

Introducing Respite Care

Sometimes having that initial conversation with a patient about respite care is what can cause the most guilt. There are some things caregivers can do to help make that conversation a little easier and soften the feeling of guilt that can come with it.

  1. Bring up the conversation lightly and casually the first time and then allow it to pass without going into too much detail. After a period of time, bring it up again and allow it to progress over a series of smaller conversations as opposed to one bigger one.
  2. Highlight the patient benefits of respite care.
  3. Ask about your patient’s concerns and desires. Use the conversation as an opportunity to find out what they like and don’t like about your own caregiving style. Not only can you then find a respite caregiver that can fit those needs but it can also create room for your own growth as a caregiver.
  4. Make it clear that you will be anxious to hear about your patient’s respite care experience as soon as you return.

Dealing with Respite Care Guilt

Understanding the reasons for and the benefits of respite care can help caregivers process the guilt that comes along with planning and preparing for respite care. But when the day comes that you actually leave your loved one in the care of a stranger, you are almost sure to feel some additional guilt.

Here are some things you can do to cope with that guilt and not spend your entire leave period dealing with such emotions:

Remember that they are (likely) your parents.

Most people providing unpaid care are doing so for a parent. Remember that your parents have never stopped being considerate of you and your feelings even well into your adulthood. No matter your age, they are still your parent and will want what’s best for you.

Remember that your parents have experienced the same thing.

There’s a strong likelihood that the parent you are caring for once had to care for their own ailing parent and experienced the same type of guilt about utilizing assistance. Or perhaps when you were a child, your parents left you in the care of a babysitter or daycare facility and felt guilty or apprehensive about doing so. Remind yourself that they’ve been there before themselves and that they can relate to your feelings.

Prioritize quality over quantity.

If you spent every minute of the day caring for your loved one, you would certainly be providing a great quantity of care. But with all the stress and burnout that much caring would create, what would be the quality of your care? Keep in mind that taking the appropriate amount of time away from your caregiving duties can allow you to provide a higher level of quality when you are there.

Make a short-term investment for long-term gain.

Caregiving is a responsibility that can continue for many years. And if you never take advantage of respite care and give yourself a well-needed break every now and then, you can quickly burn out. Utilizing respite care is a short-term investment in order to receive a long-term gain on the quality of care you can provide as well as the quality of your own health and spirits.

Seeking respite care does not make you a failure. It makes you a better caregiver. And that’s what your loved one deserves the most.   


Lee Elliott is a writer from Raleigh, NC. He enjoys mindfulness meditation, sport climbing, and is keen to try wingsuit flying one day. 



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