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The Caregiver's Cairn: Boundaries - Know Your Limits


Blog by Jane Barton

Greetings one and all...

Welcome back to The Caregiver’s Cairn - a sustaining and empowering guide for caregivers and care receivers. I hope you and yours have enjoyed a lovely month since my last posting. I invite you to pour a cup of coffee or hot tea, curl up in a cozy chair, and take a deep breath. A little break in the caregiving action is good for the mind, body, and spirit. Today, I want to address the subject of personal boundaries - a topic of great importance for all caregivers and care receivers. We need to know our limits when called to care.

“No limits” is a phrase commonly used today by many businesses to describe a vast array of options, possibilities, or services. Although an effective marketing strategy for some businesses, the idea of “no limits” does not serve us well in regard to caregiving. It is important for both caregivers and care receivers to realize that appropriate boundaries - limits - are essential elements of healthy relationships. Boundaries establish a buffer zone between two individuals - indicating where one person ends and the other begins.

Our personal boundaries delineate how we choose to interact with other people. Boundaries define the individual - distinguishing one person from another. Within the context of caregiving, boundaries serve to differentiate the roles of family members and friends - spouse, partner, sibling, parent, child, neighbor, etc. Associated with each role are expectations related to caregiving. Who is expected to care for whom? What is the extent of care? Who is financially responsible? Who is available to care? Additionally, boundaries predicated on cultural norms, family norms, societal expectations, and historical patterns of care often designate the caregiver(s) within the family system.

Very much like preventative healthcare, a proactive approach to establishing, maintaining, and managing boundaries is advisable throughout the caregiving journey. Wellness checkups for boundaries is a fabulous idea! However, when do we typically address the issue of boundaries? Boundaries usually become the focus of conversation after someone is offended or something goes wrong. Right? Furthermore, when a family is confronted by the daunting challenges of illness and/or aging, there is ample opportunity for something to go wrong - for boundaries to be breached. It is not if but rather when a boundary issue will arise. Consequently, we are wise to be mindful of the need for and the nature of boundaries during such stressful times. Boundaries are rarely etched in stone. As circumstances change, boundaries often change. So, we must commit to re-establishing and managing our boundaries as needed.

My first experience as a caregiver was one of “no limits.” When I was fifteen, I assumed the role of caregiver for my mom - without a thought and without limits. For eight years, I functioned more as an adult than a child. More a mother than a daughter. Because I failed to recognize and honor my boundaries, I compromised my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Had I perceived boundaries as blessings instead of personal failings, the role of caregiver might not have usurped my intimate role as daughter. This experience reinforces my foundational belief that knowledge is power. If only I had known and honored my limits. If only...

Today, I understand the importance of articulating, establishing, and maintaining appropriate boundaries. Limiting the amount and the type of care I choose to offer my family and friends reflects an honest assessment and understanding of the situation, my capacity to care, and my role. Although establishing boundaries is self-serving, we need not feel selfish! Appropriate boundaries are a blessing to all involved in the caregiving journey. Boundaries bless us in the following ways:

  • Boundaries define the individual and the role.
  • Boundaries are mutually beneficial.
  • Boundaries delineate a buffer zone between people.
  • Boundaries establish physical and emotional limits.
  • Boundaries assist in establishing realistic expectations.


So my friends, embrace your boundaries! Know your limits! They will serve you and yours well in the days and weeks to come.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. I invite you to share your perspective on the caregiving journey. Make suggestions. Pose questions. Provide resources. Share your story. Coming together and sharing, we will improve the process for one and all. I look forward to continuing the conversation next month. Til then, blessings to you and yours...Jane W. Barton

Do you have a question for Jane? Please email us at and we will be in touch soon!

Jane W. Barton, MTS, MASM, CSA is a passionate speaker, writer, and listener. Jane is the founder of Cardinal, LLC, a consulting firm that provides educational programs to assist people in confronting the daunting challenges posed by aging,  serious illness and disability. Jane is well-versed in the areas of grief and bereavement, caregiving, hospice and palliative care, change and transition, and spirituality and health. She presents innovative, transformational programs to community members, healthcare providers, pastoral caregivers, clergy, funeral service providers, and national audiences to improve the experience of people and families challenged by serious, advanced, or terminal illnesses. Previously, Jane served as Director of Education for a hospice and palliative care educational institution. She has also served as a hospice chaplain and bereavement facilitator in hospice and palliative care. Jane is a certified Spiritual Director as well as a Certified Senior Advisor. In a former life, she worked as a financial services representative and an exploration petroleum geologist and manager.  



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