The Caregivers' Journey: For Your Sake, Set Boundaries

By Marsha Kay Seff

"The Caregivers' Journey" appears here monthly. Marsha Kay Seff wrote and edited the San Diego Eldercare Directory for 10 years. She knows first-hand about the ups and downs of caregiving, as she brought her aging parents to San Diego from Miami Beach in order to look after them. Her column will discuss the challenges faced by adults in caring for their aging parents. Direct email inquiries or responses to

Take a deep breath and buckle your seat belt. You’re a caregiver: Sure you feel overwhelmed. It goes with the job; there’s not a family caregiver around who doesn’t feel stressed to the max – a lot of the time.

Caregiving is a rollercoaster. You go up and you go down, sometimes at virtually the same time. So buckle up and try to enjoy the best parts of the ride. An important way to prepare for this journey is to set boundaries.

You might not want to; you might believe you can do it all, and you might feel guilty if you can’t. But you have to try. Because if you don’t set limits, you’re going to reach yours before too long. And then, you won’t be any help to your loved ones.

Though I didn’t always stick to my boundaries, I always made the attempt. I phoned my parents at their retirement home five days a week. I saw them for dinner and shopping on Wednesdays. I’d put out big fires as needed, but I tried to wait on the little ones that often died out by themselves by the following day.

I didn’t phone my parents on weekends and asked them not to call me then "unless you’re dead, and, then, think twice before dialing." When I went on vacation, I left my sister in charge and I did not leave a phone number.

My parents knew about all the boundaries I set and respected them.

It’s tough saying "no," but you need to learn. You can’t be responsible for every aspect of your loved ones’ care and it’s not your responsibility or even in your power to make them happy. You can’t do it all, no matter how hard you try.

You need to get over rationalizing that no one else can care for your loved ones as well as you. That might be true, but it’s not worth losing yourself in the process.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your family or friends ask what they can do, don’t be shy. Tell them. Helping you is a gift they might enjoy giving.

Caregivers live their daily lives very close to their boundaries. But if you recognize them and believe it’s OK to set them, life will be more manageable.

As a caregiver, taking the time to renew yourself is imperative. Don’t be afraid to do it.

Sponsored by Right at Home, In-Home Care & Assistance,, (951) 506-9628, Contact Marsha Kay Seff at


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