Friday, 10 March 2017

Drawing Personal Boundaries in Caregiving



There's a ton of messaging out there for caregivers that sounds like this:

Make time for yourself!

Plan respite!

When it's all too much, just say no!

Doesn't it all sound so easy? And if we feel exhausted and happen to mention that to friends or family, those messages echo around in the conversation berating us for not managing our own wellbeing more efficiently.

The fact is, walking away from a child with autism who is in meltdown is not a responsible option. Respite may not be affordable or it may be more bother than it's worth to arrange. Just say no to someone who needs help to feed himself? Not going to happen.

So how can we draw boundaries around what we do for our loved ones so that we maintain a sense of self, we protect our health and we find joy in our day even as we face challenges?

Here are some of my ideas - I would love to hear yours, too.

1)  Care for yourself as you care for others. If you make your loved one a cup of tea, make one for yourself. If the sun is shining, go to the window and look outside. GO outside with your loved one whenever you can. Nature heals. Put on music and dance together.  Look through old photos. These practices require discipline and the determined decision to find joy individually AND together at home. Placing yourself in the shadow of the person you care for can become a habit. "I'll do something for myself at the end of the day when this is all over" is a terrible mantra, because it doesn't work.

2)  Yes, I can help you, but a little later. Not right now. Parents of young children know this trick. Not every need or desire of our loved one requires immediate action or attention. Some things can wait. Exercising this prerogative to WAIT when it's sensible to do so give us real options to do something else in meantime. It's easy to allow our stress levels to rise at every request for help. Each call feels like an emergency. It's not, it just feels that way. When a loved one calls for help with something, try answering "Just a minute". Take a second to reflect on whether this is an action that you must take immediately or whether it can be postponed or not done at all. There are times when our loved ones can get in the habit of having help with everything even when they retain capabilities to perform tasks independently.

3)  Declare to your loved one that sometimes you're both going to do something of YOUR choosing.  Very often in caregiving, we sacrifice our right to choice because we see our own needs as less important than those of our loved one. If your loved one wants to go shopping and you prefer visits to museums, declare that once a week, you get to choose the outing destination. The same principle applies to exercising choice over TV shows and music. Having care needs doesn't equate to the right to choose how we live our lives outside of caring.

I would love to know strategies that you've tried in drawing personal boundaries in caregiving!
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