How to Say 'No' to Caregiving

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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:

Evaluate

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.

Prioritize

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."

Set Boundaries

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.

Get Help

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.

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89 Comments

I have alresdy gone way over overwhelm. I fnally took advantage of taking a respite of 23 days, i wasted the other ones because I didn't know how I could do tht to her. I am alonr in this battle. My dad passed years ago, no siblings, aunts ,uncles etc... and friends who don't want to help.I also have a husband who does his best, however he is very ill.I'm to the point I don't know what end is up. I amhome beacase I was injured at work, and have been winting to retirement dissability for 6 years, my money is running out to pay a companion for my mom($15) an hour so tha I can time alone with my husband. I'm desperat, ill and tired of crying and feeling guilty Help!!!
Dang you are not alone. I have been caring for my 83 year old mother for about 6 years now, even though she is living in an independent living arrnagment at a retirement village, I take care of everything, Doctor appts, groceries, dentist, etc. I or my wife are doing something for mom every single day and she calls at least 10 times a day. I am doing the best I can, this morning at 6:30am I went to get her gorceries so I could get some things done for myself today. I called to let her know I was coming over and she strarted on me. Mean and demanding and unhappy no matter what. I think I am going to have a heart attack I get so mad. This happens about every few weeks. I get blasted for nothing, because she is not happy depressed and does not like the food or the weather or TV or medication or the Doctor or whatever. Dang -- you are all not alone.. Scott
Thank you for this article. The points are excellent and are often learned the hard way. As you say "Many seniors become narcissistic and self-absorbed,".... "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."" I find this so true. Emotional and physical burn out is a real concern for me and I have had to back off care giving to a degree for that reason. Fortunately, my mother is well cared for where she is and what I can handle is more at arm's length than the "front line". I simply do not have the physical and emotional resources for more than that. Though I have explained this to her, she still wants me to be more involved, My health has suffered in the past few years and I have had to distance myself. Family is not always available to help. I have a sister who refuses to and this is consistent with her behaviour over the years. She is there only to get something for herself. My mother, who at 99 is still very capable, wants others to "do for her". I encourage her to do everything she can for herself. She is a physiotherapist and knows that is best for anyone. I have found that she does not accept my limitations and gets very angry when I say "No" but part of that is also the personality disorder she has. It is a reality I have to live with. She gets angry about a lot of things and I cannot let that sway the healthy choices I make. Many are in a much worse situation than I am and my heart goes out to you.
Blessings
Joan