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Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents

Daughter speaking with her elderly parents about boundaries.

One of the hardest things to do is to say no to your elderly parents because…well, they’re your parents.

However, if they’re especially demanding and difficult each time you approve of unreasonable requests, you’re just setting a precedent that if your elderly parents ask for something, they can get whatever they want from you.

Nearly 40% of caregivers experience high levels of emotional stress, which can be exacerbated by unclear boundaries. (AARP)

The role of a family caregiver often comes without a manual, yet setting boundaries is integral to maintaining a respectful and sustainable relationship with your elderly parents.

Establishing clear boundaries can prevent burnout and promote a more positive caregiving environment.

Also, if your parents have become borderline manipulative (which can happen due to memory loss and/or reacting to lack of control in life), you can stop that behavior in its tracks.

10 Tips for Setting Boundaries With Elderly Parents

Boundaries are not walls; they are guidelines that help navigate a relationship with love and respect.

Nedra Glover Tawwab, therapist and author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace
  1. Clarify your own needs and limits: Before setting boundaries, understand what you can realistically offer both emotionally and practically. Consider your available time, energy, finances, and emotional well-being.
  2. Identify specific areas needing boundaries: Pinpoint situations where you feel overwhelmed or disrespected. Is it daily calls, unsolicited advice, financial expectations, or physical care demands?
  3. Communicate clearly and respectfully: Choose a calm moment to explain your needs and desired boundaries. Use “I” statements and focus on how specific behaviors impact you.
  4. Start small and build gradually: Don’t overwhelm yourself or your parents with drastic changes. Introduce boundaries incrementally, allowing time for adjustment.
  5. Offer alternatives and compromises: While setting limits, suggest alternative solutions that address their needs within your boundaries. Perhaps offer phone calls on specific days or suggest professional help for certain tasks.
  6. Anticipate resistance and prepare responses: Guilt trips and emotional manipulation are common. Practice assertive communication techniques and have clear, calm responses ready.
  7. Be consistent and firm, not harsh: Sticking to your boundaries, even when uncomfortable, shows respect for yourself and your needs. Explain your consistency as maintaining a healthy relationship.
  8. Remember, “no” is a complete sentence: You don’t need to justify your boundaries. Practice saying “no” confidently and without apology.
  9. Seek support and build your network: Talk to trusted friends, family, or therapists. Support groups for caregivers can offer valuable understanding and shared experiences.
  10. Prioritize self-care: Setting boundaries is not selfish; it’s essential for your well-being. Schedule time for activities you enjoy to avoid burnout and resentment.

Bonus Tip: Remember, setting boundaries is not about abandoning your parents, but about creating a sustainable, healthy relationship for everyone involved.

Be patient, compassionate, and consistent in your approach.

These tips are a starting point. Adjust them to your specific situation and remember, professional guidance can be invaluable in navigating this complex process.

Take The Quiz

Do You Need to Set Boundaries with Your Elderly Parent?

These questions are designed to help caregivers reflect on their current situation and identify if setting boundaries might be beneficial for their well-being and the care of their elderly parent.

Instructions: Answer each question honestly with a "Yes" or "No."

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