Number one, you need to worry about yourself. There is a reason that flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone around you. You can’t help anyone if you don’t take care of your own safety, health, and well-being. That means you need to set up boundaries identifying what is acceptable to you and what is unacceptable before you even begin to think about what your parent needs.
Not taking care of yourself is an incredibly common problem. It is so common that there’s actually a term for it – caregiver burnout. So, step number one is “let’s do everything to prevent or reduce caregiver burnout.” Again, the first step is to think about what your boundaries are and then we can move on from there.
Here are some examples: can your parents move in with you? Do you have enough room? Do you have enough time? How do you feel about privacy? If you are married, how does your spouse feel about having your parents move in? What if both sets of parents need to move in?
If you think you have answers to the above questions, think again. The answers will change as the medical, physical, emotional, and financial needs of your parents change. What is acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow.
Do you work? Does your employer offer any benefits that could help your parents, such as long- term care insurance, paid leave for taking care of ill family members, telecommuting options? How do they feel if you need to take a lot of time off to take your parents to doctors’ appointments? What about your own medical appointments?
How strong are you physically? How much physical help dear family members need? Can you do it without hurting yourself?
How cooperative is your family member? Are they receptive to help? Or, are you going to have an argument every time you try to do something or don’t do something? What’s your tolerance for that?
The most important thing to remember at this point is that there is a reason that retirement communities, assisted living, nursing homes, etc. have the staff work in shifts. 24 hours a day seven days a week is virtually impossible for any one individual to provide care.
So, now that you’ve set your boundaries in your own head, you need to take steps to clearly communicate those boundaries. First, write them down. We suggest that you divide them into three types: what’s always going to be okay with you, what’s never going to be okay with you, and when you need to change the situation. So, for example, you could have a category about bathing. It could be always okay for you if your mom needs help bathing, even if you have to bathe her yourself. But it might never be okay for you to have to bathe your father. Therefore, when your father can no longer bathe himself, you might need to change the situation.