In my series, ‘Workin for a Livin’, I wrote a post on setting limits and rules to help working caregivers manage the demands of caregiving in the workplace. But I see an opportunity to take that idea even a step further. Setting boundaries in a caregiving situation before you go bonkers could save you a heap of frustration and aggravation. I think there are many reasons why being a caregiver puts us in a position of thinking that we have to say ‘Yes’ all the time: You’ve got your garden variety guilt, your ingrained sense of duty or some driving fear or worry. As the son or daughter of an aging parent, you might convince yourself that if you say ‘Yes’, you will be more loved and appreciated or gain that respect and approval that you never felt that you received. If so, I challenge that belief!
Think of somebody that you really love and that really loves you back. Now, if that person told you ‘No’ (hopefully politely), would you stop loving or respecting them? Of course not. You may spend some time being miffed or disappointed. You may even be angry for a time, but you don’t stop loving them. If saying ‘No’ led to the end of love, not one teenager alive would grow up still loving their parents!
And in some situations, saying ‘No’ could gain you somebody’s respect. I find that I admire and respect a person who knows when to say ‘No’!
And here is the kicker, if you don’t learn when and how to say ‘No’, you greatly risk CAREGIVER BURNOUT! And then where will you and your parent be???
What caregivers need to learn and practice, is saying ‘no’ in a constructive and polite but firm way. You might say: “No, I can’t do that right now. I’m sorry.”; or, “No, I can’t take you to an appointment that day but maybe you could ask ______.”; or, “I really enjoyed doing that with you the last time, but I won’t be able to go with you again this time.” Then, stop talking! Don’t keep trying to give reasons and excuses for why you are unable to do what is requested. You don’t have to explain. You are simply, with respect, setting your boundaries. And yes, your Mom may be disappointed or even a little hurt, but she will be OK…..and you will too! Remind yourself that sometimes saying ‘No’ to your mother is really saying ‘Yes’ to you!
Now, to truly gain control of the caregiving situation before it gets control of you, you also need to learn how and when to say ‘Yes’. If you always jump in to do all that is asked without setting the limits you need, you are going to be exhausted! Remember, Dad has all the time in the world to think of the many things that he needs you to do; meanwhile, you have a family life and a work life (and hopefully something of a personal life!) that all of those requests need to fit into. So learning how to say ‘Yes’ to protect yourself can be just as important as knowing when and how to say ‘No’.
Again, learn and practice how you can say ‘Yes’ to stay in control of the situation. You might try: “I can do that but this is when/how I will do it…..”, or, “Sure, I can help with that but I only have an hour.”, or, “Yes, I can take care of that next weekend when I am there.” The point is to frame your ‘Yes’ to suit your life and when or how it might work best for you. If you can learn to communicate in this way, the expectations are clear from the beginning which will allow you to relax a bit about things. And Dad really will get used to the fact that things will get done, just maybe not on his timeframe (which is alright!!) Again, HE WILL BE OK and SO WILL YOU!
It takes practice but once you begin to take control by defining the boundaries you will feel the relief. It may not feel natural to you at first, but keep at it. You deserve and need the boundaries!
Now I realize that there are situations when you can’t put something off and you need to say ‘Yes’ right then and there, but if it is not a true emergency, try not to establish the pattern of constantly being available 24/7. You just can’t sustain that kind of care forever. Rules and Limits! And, when it is time to look for other ways to help your parents because the demands on you are becoming too great, seek help.
If you are doing what you can do, without detriment to yourself, you are doing enough. Knock that guilt gremlin off of your shoulder and embrace the boundaries! Doing so will allow you to do a better job helping your parents and prevent caregiver burnout. You and your parent both deserve that.
On the journey with you…….Kathy