Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Should Care Partners Have Boundaries?

Isn't talking about boundaries and care in the same breath an oxymoron? Like jumbo shrimp or original copy, it seems contradictory.

If you think that is true, I've learned two things about you. You don't understand care, and you're not clear about boundaries, either.

Caring for an elderly person involves their physical care, emotional support and sometimes ensuring social needs are met. It's giving beyond what is considered normal or easy. There are times when it involves dealing with anxiety, repetition and downright crankiness. This is not a comprehensive definition, just a few aspects of the job. It also involves incredible love, satisfaction and times of wonder, but that's another discussion.

A boundary isn't a line in the sand, or something that is cruel or mean. A boundary says, "I can do this, this and this, but for the health of both of us, I can't do that." OR, "You can do this, but that isn't safe for you."

Why do we establish boundaries? The reason is simple--they are best for both parties involved, even if one party might not feel that way.

Here is an example. Greta got in touch with an old friend. She hadn't seen her for many years and wanted to spend some time with her. When she came and told me she was going out with this friend, I was concerned.  I'd never heard this lady's name before, although I  knew all Greta's other friends. I wanted her to have a good time, but I was also concerned that she was safe. I emailed Greta's son and asked if he knew this person, and he replied that he did, but he would prefer that, for their first meeting in so many years,  they met and have dinner where Greta lived. Greta had changed a lot in the last several years, and he wanted to be sure the friend knew how best to help her.

When I conveyed this to Greta, she was not happy with me. She railed at her lack of independence. For over an hour we talked and I explained the reason for the boundary.

That evening, our nurse talked to the friend, conveying the son's wishes (which were a boundary.) This friend railed at the injustice and said some inappropriate and unkind things. She later phoned the son and lit into him.

I realized my gut reaction was correct. A boundary was needed to keep Greta safe and all of us made the correct decisions.

Sometimes, a boundary is to keep the care partner sane. One of my mantras is, "In order to keep caring, you need to look after yourself."

Barbara was at her wit's end. She had made the difficult decision to give up a job in finance to look after her mother. She knew she'd be alright financially, but wondered if she could really fulfil this role in her mother's life. She'd prayed about it, and it seemed the right thing to do.

But now, several months into it, she was frustrated. Beyond that, there were times she was angry at the demands her mother made on her. Then she felt guilty. Then she cried.

Barbara needs to build a fence. Remember: good fences make good neighbours. This applies to many relationships. Anyone in your life that starts knocking down fences and barging onto your lawn is  someone with whom you will have a strained relationship.

Think about personal space. Everyone has a boundary in how close you want other people to come. When I am on a packed subway and mushed against people I wouldn't normally get close to, I don't make eye contact. It's a way for both of us to create some kind of boundary.

Years ago, I knew someone who got closer to me than I was comfortable with. As she talked to me, I would subltly back up, until I felt the wall at my back. I asked a friend, "Why does she do that?" The answer was simple. Her personal space was closer than mine.

Back to boundaries. Someone like Barbara has to realize that even though she is full time caregiver for her mother, she can't, and shouldn't, try to meet all her mother's needs.


1) Barbara will go nuts.
2) It fosters an unhealthy relationship. Nobody should be at another person's beck and call. If her mother needs intensive physical care, Barbara should get professional help.
3) Mother requires other relationships in her life. She needs other people helping her and--radical thought--she can contribute to their lives, as well.
4) Both Barbara and her mother will be happier with some boundaries.

"You can't pour from an empty cup. Look after yourself." Unknown

Continue the conversation: Have you set a boundary is a care partner situation? How did it work out?

Next week...the how of boundaries.

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