How to set boundaries as a caregiver

caregiver boundaries

As caregivers, we have heard from well-intentioned friends and family members to not neglect ourselves while caring for an elderly parent.   But this simple intention is often easier said than done.   Or it might be a thought that you kick down the road for another day when mom is feeling better, dad is less difficult, or you have a better schedule. Instead of a general statement to care for yourself more, try setting boundaries.   Setting clear boundaries and limitations is the first step in caring for yourself and avoiding burnout.

Here are a few simple lessons that we have learned as caregivers to help you be successful in your journey.

Just Say No and Mean It. 

Learn to say the word “no” and don’t feel like you need to give a long or detailed explanation to why.  As a caregiver, your plate is full.   You are not obligated to do more than you are already doing.  If you don’t set your boundaries firmly, then you are not setting a boundary at all. Many children, adult daughters especially feel like they can’t say no or must oblige every request asked of them.  You don’t have to, not even for the parent who you are caring for.  This doesn’t mean that you should be rude, but you do need to be firm.   The ability to say no with confidence is the key to setting your boundaries.

How You Spend Your Time and Energy.

There are only so many hours in the day and free time to dedicate to what is most important.  You need to be realistic and prioritize. There is no need to create a Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas when it’s more important to spend time with family.  You don’t need to make a Pinterest-inspired birthday cake from scratch when a store-bought cake will make the day just as festive.  Your parent, friends, and family would rather spend quality time with you than have you cut vegetables into roses to garnish a dinner plate.   Now with that said, if your creative pursuits fulfill you or you find them restorative, then set aside time for yourself to express your creativity.  But don’t let the expectations of others weigh you down. Keep it simple when you can.  Be aware that your time and energy as a caregiver is not boundless and needs to be prioritized.

Don’t Let Guilt Get in Your Way.

We all have those moments when you don’t think you are doing enough, or not doing the right thing, or feeling resentful, sad, or frustrated with your situation.  These feelings can lead to guilt.  Don’t shy away from guilt but don’t give into it either.  Acknowledge the guilt that can come with caregiving but learn to let it go. Guilt is normal. You are not obliged to make everyone else feel comfortable all the time.  You are not required to give and give until you have nothing left.  If guilt is making you say yes, then you will overcompensate and be left drained in the end.  This will do you no good and won’t benefit your parent either.   Guilt needs to be part of setting your boundaries, especially when it drains you of time and energy.

Don’t Lose Yourself in the Process.

Caregiving is an integral part of what you do but only part of who you are.   Don’t neglect all the other wonderful things in your life that bring you pleasure and joy.  Try to protect your private time to nurture your creative pursuits and help you to relax.  Try to incorporate your parent into sharing activities that you enjoy—a walk in the park, painting at the kitchen table, reading a good book, or watching a classic movie.  But also leave free time for just you.  Don’t underestimate the power of time spent on self-care. It is not selfish to focus on yourself, it will restore your energy for the care you need to give your parent going forward.

Reach Out to Others for Help.

To help you be successful in maintaining your limits and boundaries, you will need the help of others. The stress of caregiving can be both physically and mentally exhausting.  Share your tasks and work with others to help you succeed in the long run.  If possible, hire resources to assist you and don’t feel guilty about using professional help.  Create a support network of friends and family members who you can call on for assistance when needed. Most people are willing to help, but they just don’t know how.   You need to recognize the limitations of your own endurance and be prepared to ask for assistance from others in specific ways.   Having someone come in to clean your house, grocery shop, or drive your parent to an appointment can free up your time for other tasks or allow you some downtime.

If you don’t care for yourself or set reasonable boundaries, this can lead to burnout.  How can you recover from the exhaustion of caregiving?

At Aegis Living, we understand the patience and dedication it takes to provide full-time care. If you are feeling overwhelmed, respite care is an excellent option to give you a necessary break.  Your parent can live temporarily at an Aegis Living community in one of our fully furnished apartments.  During their stay, they will enjoy the luxurious amenities, fine dining, enriching activities, and meet new friends. We can care for them while you enjoy a much-deserved break.  You will have the peace of mind that they are in good hands so you can focus on re-energizing.  We are here to support you.  Contact an Aegis Living community near you to meet our staff and find out more details about a temporary stay.