Setting Limits as a Caregiver

Setting healthy limits is the key to keeping your sanity as a caregiver.As a family caregiver, you probably are finding your life sandwiched between your career responsibilities, raising children, nurturing a marriage and yes, caring for mom or dad. Though you feel the pressure to perform well in each role, being a caregiver can be especially time-consuming and emotionally draining, even more so when you approach the situation as the ever-ready hero. The experience, however, doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Most of our encounters in life involve the early establishment of boundaries, and we’re generally content if we do it well from the start. But family situations get sticky. In the role of primary caregiver, we tend (as much as we hate to admit it) to fail in this area. The reason is actually a simple one – regardless of whether you are 18 or 78, you will always be the “child” in the relationship. As children, we learn to respect our parents and see telling them no as being inappropriate, so the role-reversal can become quite touchy for the both of you.

If these feelings have made you anxious and caused you to avoid setting limits, take heart. Having reasonable, lovingly presented limits established for the relationship can not only benefit you but can also benefit your loved one. As you release the responsibility to do, and be, everything for your parent, he or she will learn a sense of independence which significantly raises self-esteem.

So, how do you, as a family caregiver, go about setting limits you and your loved one can live with? The following are a few tips for getting started on this journey.

First, have an honest, evaluative dialogue with yourself. Outside of accidents or sudden, debilitating illness that a loved one might recover from, the role of caregiving usually plays an increasingly more significant role in our lives over time as the end of life nears. When it reaches the point where a great deal of time is spent caring for your loved one, you must take an inventory of your needs as well as theirs. This is the moment you determine what you can reasonably commit to, what needs to be delegated to others, and what you’ll have to decline. Truthfully, it’s much better if you are able to establish a team before crisis time… ideally in the form of a family meeting involving your parent, siblings and other relatives who might be able to assist. You must know that caregiving is NOT a solo operation, and being clear about this from the start can save you from physical and emotional burnout.

Second, get clear on your priorities. Often, caregivers rush onto the scene believing they will somehow come in to save the day, but often at the expense of time spent with their spouse, children, and friends. It has been said that we all make time for the things which matter most to us in life, and the caregiving experience (which can be lengthy) is but one component in the rich, well-rounded life you’ve created for yourself. Your parent is important, but don’t neglect others you hold near and dear, who of course will be your support network during the rough spots of your journey. If your career aspirations are high on your priority list, you will also have to build in time to achieve the standards of success you’ve defined for yourself.

Third, understand that your loved one can become quite demanding in the face of illness and loss of independence. You will find that some elderly individuals will become increasingly more self-absorbed as their illness lingers, and as the primary caregiver you will likely be targeted to meet those needs, right then, no matter how reasonable they are (or are not). Sometimes, you just have to make the words “no” or “not right now” your close companions – and then stick to your guns.

In closing, taking on too much can be detrimental to you, making you of little help to your loved one who needs you. If you need help, ask for it, and don’t rule out hiring professionals and turning to long-term care. It may seem counter-intuitive, but doing so can create a better, more loving experience for everyone involved.