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6 Tips for Setting Caregiving Limits

What to do if you are unable or unwilling to take on the role of caregiver

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As much as you want to help out with your aging parents, there are times when it just doesn’t work out. You may be unemployed, facing your own health problems, or live too far away to offer much assistance. Sometimes family dynamics are such that it isn’t easy for you to step in as a caregiver.

Here are six ways you can deal with the decision not to be deeply involved with your parent’s care.

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1. Take charge of your emotions. Analyze how you feel and the best way to handle your new family situation. Avoid slipping back into old family roles. Don’t let past resentments and battling siblings get in the way. This is a time to come together as much as possible and do what’s best for your parents.

2.  Have an honest discussion. Talk with your immediate family members about what’s involved in caring for your parent, and what’s reasonable and manageable for each person to contribute. Identify what needs cannot be met by you or others, and what resources need to be pulled in. Explain what you are prepared to do, what is not possible, and why. If you can’t be there in person, find ways to provide support from long distance and to stay in touch.

3. Deal with your guilt. You may have guilt about your decision not to play a primary caregiving role, but other family members may be better suited, have a closer relationship with the parent or have the time and ability to take on the task. Family tensions and disagreements are often common when caring for Mom or Dad, but it’s best to be upfront and resolve the issues from the start.

4. Do what you can. Just because you are far away or not the primary caregiver doesn’t mean you can’t play a role. You may be able to help out financially, research community services, or check in with your parent regularly by phone. Make the most of any visits, and offer to relieve the primary caregiver when you can. If you live close by, do some grocery shopping or take your parent to a medical appointment.

5. Deal with changed relationships. Consider the stresses faced by the primary caregiver and find ways you can help, even in small ways. When there is family tension, avoid anger and venting your problem and focus on what’s best for your parent. Be a sounding board for the primary caregiver and express your appreciation to him or her for taking on this role.

6. Participate in major decisions. Even if you aren’t providing hands-on care, stay in the loop on major decisions, such as whether your parent should move into a nursing home, what kind of care she should be receiving at home or whether medical intervention is needed. Listen to and respect the views of the primary caregiver who is dealing with the stresses and strains every day. Sometimes an outside perspective, if delivered tactfully, can be helpful to everyone involved.

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