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How Good Boundaries Make Caregiving Easier

Posted on September 11, 2019

There is an old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Having healthy boundaries in relationships is important for everyone, especially for people caring for someone who has autism. Setting and defending boundaries allows you to protect your physical and mental health and focus on feeling your best while being a caregiver for someone on the spectrum.

Setting boundaries can be hard. Your friends and family may not be used to you saying no or establishing limits for when and how you and the person you care for are available to them. They may expect you to have the same energy you had before you became a caregiver. No matter what, you are entitled to establish the boundaries you need to maintain your emotional and physical wellbeing. Setting boundaries to take care of yourself does not make you mean or selfish – it helps you focus on what you need to do to care for yourself and your child.

Here are a few tips for setting boundaries clearly and compassionately:

  1. Use clear, direct language. For example, “We cannot attend the birthday party” is clearer and more direct than “I’m not sure we will be able to attend the birthday party.”
  2. Use “I” language and avoid accusations. For example, “I go to sleep early. I am not able to take calls after 9 p.m.” is less accusing than “You always call late and wake me up!”
    MyAutismTeam.
  3. Don’t try to justify or over-explain your boundary. “No” is a complete sentence. For example, “I’m not able to take on new obligations right now,” is better than “I can’t drive carpool because having so many kids in the car stresses my child out."

After setting boundaries, do not be surprised if you need to defend them. Some people will likely test your boundaries, especially when they are new. Expect some pushback and consider what a good response might be.

Here are some examples of boundary testing and possible responses:

  1. After saying you cannot attend a party, someone attempts to use guilt to pressure you to go. You could point out that being a caregiver is hard enough without adding guilt, so you don’t feel guilty about saying no to things that will be bad for you.
  2. After setting a boundary of no phone calls after 9 p.m., someone calls at 9:15. You could choose to let the call go to voicemail. You could answer and ask whether the call is about an emergency. If it’s not an emergency, ask them to call back in the morning, wish them a good night, and hang up.
  3. After saying no to one new obligation, you are asked to take on another. You can point out that caregiving is a full-time job. Therefore your avoidance of new obligations applies to *any* new obligations, and if they ask again, the answer will be the same.

After testing your boundaries a few times, most people will understand that they are well-defended and learn to respect them. If you have allies who understand the challenges of being a caregiver for someone who has autism, ask them to help you defend your limits with others. Remember, you don’t need to apologize for setting good boundaries around what is best for you and your child.

Here are some conversations from MyAutismTeam about setting and defending boundaries:

"As soon as we were in the car and driving, the weight LIFTED and I felt a big smile on my face! And I blurted out: Wow, well done! You just took care of yourself and did what YOU knew you needed to do!"

"It is really good to see him create and set his own boundaries. And as a mom, it is adorable and amusing to see how serious he is about wanting his own space."

"My husband feels beyond disrespected and now doesn't even want to be in the same room or breathe the same air as my brother."

Have you successfully set boundaries that help you manage caregiving?
What tips would you recommend to help set healthy limits with others?
Share in the comments below or directly on MyAutismTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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