Care Giving Sucks: 5 Boundaries for Healthy Care Giving

Do forgive the blunt title but in a minute you'll understand. You see, having been a caregiver for my in-laws for eight mind-numbing years, I know first hand how draining, life sucking it can be. Being next door and on-call seemed to make sense when we first set up the arrangement but as time wore on, it became apparent my life was no longer my own.


The thing is, I honestly thought I had no choice but to do it. Thoroughly entrenched in my Christian faith, it just seemed right. What loving family would turn out their senior parents? And now start the violins...

"Down through time and across many cultures, the family unit stayed together and cared for one another. The elders were a respected part of the family, often lending a hand in less physically demanding ways... The grandparents can tutor, do minor child care, in many ways broaden the education of the young members of the family unit..." and the violins fade...

This purportedly gives the elders useful work, a reason to live. 

Yes, I get that. But the problem was that by the time our elders took habitation next door, they were pretty much spent as to contributing even their wisdom, as both suffering physically, emotionally and, as we came to find out later, mentally.

What good Christian woman wouldn't want to serve her family; care for her husband's parents. Oh, the guilt. And I also get that one day I'll be on the receiving end of life care, should I be blessed with many golden years.

But for the good news

The good news is that care giving doesn't have to suck. The reason it did for me is - I let it. I didn't realize it at the time but I not only volunteered to care for them, I put my heart and soul into the job. I would jump every time the phone rang (80% of the time it was one of them). At one point, I even had a monitor so I heard their night noises. Thankfully my husband put a halt to that.

I was quickly losing it. This coming from someone who bore and raised nine children into and through the teen years.

I will tell you right now, I would rather take all of my worst teen nightmares over the senile dementia influenced behavior of my father-in-law any day of the week.

Enough complaining... what I learned and how you can benefit!

Learn to make and keep boundaries!!

I made a list of boundaries and gave it to them. Then I told them why I needed to make boundaries. I took the time to listen to their concerns. And in the end, they agreed to them.

I was not always consist in keeping my boundaries. And often they would forget them and I would come anyway.

But when I did remember to keep them, life was amazing!! What I list below are the general rules I set. Also note that all these boundaries were interrelated but to a deteriorating mind, there was just not enough detail. What makes sense to you and me, he would misconstrue. "I thought it was an emergency!" (She needed vanilla pudding to take her vitamins. Shaking my head.)

Set visiting times for doing chores

I would show up around 6 a.m. and get them breakfast, make sure they'd taken their meds, empty the pot, refill pads and briefs, tidy the room. This was a time of chatting. The time to bring up concerns.

All the while I would be monitoring their responses. If something seemed off, I'd note it. If it really concerned me, I would ask the spouse if they'd noticed. Of course, I'd be on the phone to the doctor or 9-1-1 if there was any concern for their health.

This was also the time they could ask me to put something on my shopping list: candy, lotions, books, milk shake, etc.

I also visited at around 7 p.m. to tuck them in and ask if there was anything they needed, which I'd put on my list.

No calling unless the other spouse deems it an emergency

Before my boundaries, I would get calls at all hours for the slightest thing: she needs vanilla pudding, she can't find her wedding ring.

[True story. Her fingers had gotten so skinny they'd fall off, so she got in the habit of putting her rings in her tiny meds dish on her side table. One time some time after she had taken them off for the night, she popped them - pills, rings and all - down her throat!!! But we didn't know that. We looked and looked. We looked down the heat register. We looked in the chair cushions and in her bedding. My little girls were called over to try to ferret them out but to no avail. The rings were sadly missing for many months till one day we had the septic tanks pumped as we routinely did. Guess what was shining in the bottom of the cleaned tank! Oh happy day!]

Still smiling over that one.

But finding rings or buying vanilla pudding is not an emergency. I had to instruct them on it and in time the calls lessened.

Make a list of items, requests, concerns to be brought up the next time I come over

Related to the calling at all hours...How many times I was called to go get paper products, body goops or pills, candy bars, buy his Cheezits - just because they were used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it back when they could drive and get around.

Not happening.

Me with notepad in hand: You want three inch rubber bands? Put it on the list. Have to have spicy Cheez-its? Put it on the list. Need the newest best seller book because she is bored? Put it on the list.

Want my opinion about a sore? Well, I guess I need to see that. You get my point? I couldn't let them run my life like I was their "go-fer".

I reserve the right to call the doctor or emergency professionals

How often I would come in for my morning or evening "chores" and I would find one of the other of them languishing in pain or some unusual mental state and the spouse wanted me to cure them. "Don't call the paramedics! He/she hates the hospital!!"

First of all, why didn't I hear about this sooner? They never really got it - when to call me. I was never wrong in my assessment. Ever. Each time there was a physical problem that needed attention: she'd been vomiting all day (and no, they didn't call me). By the time I'd arrived she was vomiting stool and she was lethargic.

"Don't call. Don't call!"

Oh yes, I called. Turned out it was a blocked intestine! One week in the hospital for that one.

Another time, he had passed out, fallen across his bed. "Don't call. Please, don't call. You know he hates the hospital!" she said. He had been having seizures and he had been adamant that I not call the paramedics - he wanted to drive again and this would be another black mark on his record.

Sorry. No can do.

The point is I had to be the adult decision maker when they weren't capable. Lots of times I had to sweet talk them to get them to go because legally if they were conscious and could speak for them self they could say yes or no.

Be willing to administer tough love

One time I had to withdraw my care. I told her I would not be able to take care of her if she didn't go and get examined at the ER. She didn't like me for a little while but it was for the best. I knew in my gut that if it were here and she was me, she'd make the call as well.

Caregiving sucks (the life out of you) but this article gives you an idea or two that are sound ways to handle those eventual issues. Please send me your comments and ideas.

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