Having a work/life balance can be hard when you’re an in-home caregiver. It’s easy for things to get out of whack. You don’t notice the creep, then one day you realize you’re working, working, working and don’t have the time or energy for much else. You know you need to change things but don’t have any idea where to start. The best way to begin the change is with boundaries.
Set and Keep Simple Boundaries
We all know we should have healthy, professional boundaries, but it’s one of those things that’s much easier said than done. Start simple. Identify the areas where you’re investing too much time and energy into work and, as a result, neglecting the other important parts of your life. Do you often work late because a parent has a last-minute need? Do you spend a lot of time in your off hours preparing for the next day? Do you invest a lot of energy into a parent who always seems to have something they need to discuss or need help with? When you find the areas that are taking more than their fair share or knocking things out of balance, set a boundary around that area and stick to it. Make the boundary a hard and fast rule and commit to yourself that you’ll uphold it no matter what. Remember, a boundary doesn’t have to be a hard “No, I won’t do that” (although sometimes that’s what’s needed). A boundary can also put parameters around how often and when you say yes. For example, you can tell the too-often-late parent that you can help her no more than three nights a month with extended hours. Anything beyond that, you’ll be saying no and it will be her responsibility to find alternative care.
The hardest part about healthy, professional boundaries isn’t setting them. It’s sticking to them when people push back. When the guilt, the desire to help, or the pull to avoid conflict at any cost comes up. When those feelings pop up, we’re often quick to let go of our boundaries to get back into our comfort zone. However, every time you give in “just this once,” every time you say yes to someone despite knowing better, you’re saying no to yourself. No to much needed downtime. No to time with family and friends. No to the self-care you need for physical, emotional and mental health. To have the work/life balance you want, you have to prioritize yourself and mean it.
As caregivers, we want to give, help people, and be someone others can rely on. However, we can’t care for others well if we’re not caring for ourselves. There’s a reason flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others with theirs.