Setting Boundaries with Difficult Elderly Parents

It’s important to set boundaries when caring for elderly parents. Maybe they’re demanding more work than you can provide, maybe you have a troubled history—whatever the reason, boundaries will make your life easier and ensure you don’t grow to resent your parent.

To help you establish boundaries as a caregiver, keep the following points in mind:

Guilt is Normal

Guilt is not something you need to desperately avoid. Even if you’re a little sensitive to its effects and feel like it’s eating away at you, it’s important to remember that guilt won’t kill you, but that overworking yourself will.

Guilt will strike when you refuse their demands, but it’s something you have to live with.

You’ll also feel guilty when you don’t feed a dog every time it begs, but submitting to those puppy-dog eyes will make the animal obese and shorten its lifespan. You’ll feel guilty when you don’t let your kid stay up late on a school night, but yielding will only hurt their education.

You can’t spend your life desperately avoiding guilt, because it means you’re constantly giving people what they want, and that won’t do you or them any favors.

Understand Your Limitations

Just because they ask you to do something, doesn’t mean you should actually do it. Just because you have the time and the will, doesn’t mean you have the ability.

Family caregivers often assume the role of handymen, cooks, cleaners, nurses, gardeners, and pretty much everything else. You can say no to these roles, and just because you say no doesn’t necessarily mean you are obligated to find someone else to fill your shoes.

The more you do, the more you are expected to do; set your limits early and make it clear that you’re not there to cater to their every need and desire.

Remember That You’re Not a Machine

Many caregivers devote themselves entirely to their work and to the person they are caring for. They don’t think about hobbies, recreational activities, and relaxation, because they always put the needs of the care recipient before their own.

How can they possibly think about reading a book when that time would be better spent giving their loved one a bath? Why are they contemplating a shopping trip with friends when they could be taking their loved one for a walk through the park?

They become like a workaholic who devotes every waking minute to working or preparing to work, feeling like they are wasting their time when they are doing anything else. Remember that this attitude is a one-way ticket to caregiver stress, which can lead to everything from insomnia and depression to a complete mental breakdown.

You are a human being with feelings and needs, you’re not a machine whose only purpose is to serve others. Always keep this in mind, and if you can’t see the personal benefit of a little alone time, think about how it benefits your loved one instead.

At the end of the day, if you’re heavily fatigued, depressed, and ready to call it a day after overworking yourself, you won’t be any use to them either.

Other People Need Boundaries as Well

It’s not only care recipients that need boundaries. 

By their nature, caregivers tend to be loving, giving, and sympathetic people. They fall into the habit of saying yes all the time. As a result, they agree to more things than they can handle, from school runs to art classes, drinks with friends, and more. 

The older you are and the bigger your family is, the greater those demands become, with friends, spouses, children, and even neighbors asking for your time.

Stop agreeing to everything, be realistic in regard to what you can and can’t do, and stop sacrificing your needs just because you want to make everyone happy.

Of course, some people forget the good things you do and only remember the bad. They’ll forget the hundreds of times you acted as their personal cleaner, chauffeur, counselor, and creditor, and remember the one time you refused to help them move. You don’t need people like that in your life.

If you’re worried that a friendship or relationship will fall apart just because you say no a few times, maybe that relationship isn’t worth your time to begin with.