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Helping Vs. Enabling As A Caregiver: 3 Tips For Maintaining Balance

Helping vs. Enabling as a Caregiver: 3 Tips for Maintaining Balance

When you have an aging family member, it’s natural to want to help them with whatever they may need on a day-to-day basis. Many older adults struggle with things like limited mobility and cognitive decline, making them reliant on the help of caregivers.

While it’s normal to assist an aging loved one, it’s important not to let them take advantage of your caregiver role.

In some instances, older adults can become accustomed to the daily aid they receive and may even become completely dependent on it. If they can still perform certain tasks or functions, they may not need as much help as they’re being given. At this point, it can be hard to determine whether you’re helping or enabling.

Learn more about the difference between being a helper and an enabler.

The Difference Between Helping and Enabling

When it comes to providing care for an older adult, there’s a fine line between helping and enabling. This line can often become blurred, leading caregivers to wonder if they’re doing more harm than good.

How can you tell the difference between helping and enabling to ensure that your elderly family doesn’t become overly dependent? 

The primary difference between helping and enabling is necessity. Helping means providing the care your loved one needs, while enabling involves giving them whatever they ask for and performing tasks for them that they’re capable of performing themselves.

To better understand the distinction, consider the following example: making dinner for a parent with limited mobility who can’t cook for themselves is helping. By contrast, frequently delivering takeout to a parent without mobility or cognition issues who can still cook for themselves may be closer to enabling.

Tips to Avoid Enabling as a Caregiver

It’s not always easy to tell whether the things you do for your senior loved one are enabling them. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid crossing this fine line and maintain an appropriate caretaker role.

Here are three major tips to avoid going from a caregiver to an enabler.

1. Assess Their Capabilities

The first step for maintaining balance in this position is assessing your loved one’s capabilities. What is it that makes them require your help? Do they have an ongoing health condition that makes it hard to care for themselves?

Many older adults struggle with limited mobility, which can impact their ability to perform daily tasks like bathing, cooking, and cleaning. Others suffer from cognitive concerns like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia that make it impossible to perform everyday functions, including eating, doing laundry, and keeping up with personal hygiene.

By assessing what your senior family member is capable of, you can distinguish what they truly need versus what they simply want.

2. Encourage Independence

Once you’ve evaluated your loved one’s needs and capabilities and determined how much they can do for themselves, encourage them to maintain some level of independence by performing these tasks on their own.

For example, if they’re still able to clean up around the house without assistance, motivate them to do so without relying on your assistance. If they put up resistance, explain that this is a way for them to remain self-sufficient.

3. Distance Yourself When Necessary

Another way to stop enabling your parent or senior loved one is by distancing yourself from them or the conflicts they cause when you must. If you notice red-flag behaviors in your loved one, such as addictive or abusive tendencies, consider removing yourself from the situation, if only temporarily. 

Be transparent and explain to them that you’ll be taking a break until the unacceptable behavior stops. Depending on their needs, you may need a professional caregiver or another family member to step in. Make it a point to inform the new caretaker of the issues you’ve had with your senior loved one.

Maintaining Balance as a Caregiver

Caring for an aging family member is tricky, but it can also be extremely rewarding. While caregiving is an essential service for many senior adults, it’s important to avoid enabling an elderly parent or other loved one.

Establishing firm boundaries concerning what you are and aren’t willing to do will help ensure that the caregiving experience remains positive for both you and your loved one.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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