By Marlo Sollitto, AgingCare.com contributing editor
By nature, caregivers are nurturing people who put other’s needs before their own. But how can you set limits without feeling guilty? Where do you draw a line and say “I can do this much and no more”?
Cindy Laverty is a caregiver advocate, founder of The Care Company and The Cindy Laverty caregiving talk show. “Caregiving can last for years. It can take over your life if you let it. Most of us didn’t plan on being a caregiver, and never thought about the issues or the time commitment involved,” says Ms. Laverty, a former caregiver herself.
Being able to say ‘No’ can save you from emotional and physical burnout, and open up opportunities of shared caregiving responsibilities while deepening your relationship with your elderly loved one. Here are five tips from Ms. Laverty to manage your caregiving role:
Have an honest, realistic talk with yourself – the earlier in your caregiving journey, the better. Ask yourself how much of a commitment you are willing and able to make? Get clear about what you can do – and what you will do. Caregiving is not a one-person job. After you’ve come to terms in your own mind, get your parent on board and have a family meeting, before a crisis arises. (Family meetings: Have peace, avoid arguments)
Those who know how to manage their own personal life fare best as caregivers. Ms. Laverty says, “Knowing what matters most in your life helps you put things into context,” Ms. Laverty says. “This is your final journey with someone you love. How do you want that journey to look? How do you want your life to look at the end of the journey? Do you want your marriage intact? Do you want to maintain your career? You don’t have to do everything, and you shouldn’t do everything. Caregiving is one component of your life.”
In her own experience and her work with other caregivers, Ms. Laverty has realized, “Many seniors become narcissistic and self-absorbed,” she says. “All that matters is that their needs being met immediately. They demand and demand more. At some point you’re going to have to say ‘I can’t do that right now.’ Set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t become an indentured servant.”
No is OK
Learning how say one little word – no – can make a world of difference. “You might think, ‘I can’t say no to mom.’ But your mom probably said no when she was taking care of you as a child. “Sometimes in life, the answer has to be no,” Ms. Laverty says.
If you are a caregiver who has taken on too much, understand that you cannot fix all that is wrong. Speaking to a professional – a counselor or a caregiving advocate can help get your life back on track. “Don’t just stay on a runaway train. Once you get to the point of complete overwhelm, you will ruin your health, destroy your relationships, or just walk away. Get help before you reach the breaking point,” she says.