Episode 73: Kick in the Butt

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When do you know when it’s time for them to start doing things for themselves?

That’s a tricky question, isn’t it? We all have different caregiving experiences and the people we care for all have different needs. 

No matter how different we all are there are two things that are universal 

  1. People should be allowed, supported, and encouraged to do things for themselves.
  2. Everyone needs boundaries to protect the energy they have to live their lives the best way they can.

Learn more on today’s episode. Listen to it now or read the Transcript below.


When do you know when it’s time for them to start doing things for themselves?

That’s a tricky question, isn’t it?

There isn’t a definitive answer either because it all depends.

It depends on why they need help. Is this long-term or do they just need help to recover and heal? 

Our personal caregiving is always going to be different than other caregivers so there’s never a book that we can pick up that tells us how to get through life. However, I do think that we can learn from each other’s experiences, and almost always there is something in another’s caregiver story that helps us see things in a different way.

So let’s talk about knowing when they need a little kick in the ass. 

To do that we need to start at the beginning.

When my husband came home from his first cancer surgery I was super attentive. I did everything for him because he was visibly in pain. He spent a lot of time in the hospital and coming home was good for him but we had to work on pain management and getting him to eat and stay hydrated. 

I did everything I could to keep him as comfortable as possible. I made sure things were very conducive for him to rest. I kept the house quiet. I didn’t wake him up unless it was time for his medication and oftentimes I would stay in the room with him so that when he woke up he would know where he was.

My focus was to help him heal by making everything in his life easy for him. 

This phase has not changed. He’s lived with cancer for years now and every time he comes home from another surgery this is what I do. There is no question in my mind that people need a good deal of support when they come home from surgery, no matter what type of surgery it is.


Then we get to the point where they’re awake more. When there is more time in between pain medication and he is up more. This is when he needs to move around. Usually, he comes home from the hospital and his body already hurts from being in bed for so long. So once he’s gone a week sleeping most of the time at home he really needs to move. He sits up more. I have him move to a different part of the house. I have him sit at the table for a little bit each day. It’s difficult, I get it. Coming off of medicine sucks but we both know it needs to be done and that the discomfort of transitioning to just Tylenol is short-lived.

This is when there is a little bit of a battle of wills. 

I feel it is normal for a person to get used to having things done for them,  especially when they are going through something difficult. However, there’s a point where a person should start to do things on their own again because it doesn’t do them any good not to, and there isn’t anything stopping them.

Let me explain…

If my husband is recovering from surgery, he would have no problem letting me do everything for him. In fact, after transitioning to regular activities of daily living he would undoubtedly love it if I still brought him food and made sure he was drinking enough. Who wouldn’t? I think in this caregiving world we live in, not having to do something almost always feels like a treat. When you are under the stress of living with illness or disability, not having to decide what you’re going to eat for lunch is awesome! In fact, it’s a pretty sweet deal for anyone. 

So I can see why it is so easy for the person we care for to get used to having things done for them. 

Some of us then will have a hard time trying to figure out when we are doing too much for them.

Our experiences are all different. 

Sometimes we might want to do everything for them all the time always.

It’s possible that the person you care for has been disabled and you don’t know how to help them learn to start doing things for themselves.

Maybe it’s just easier to do things for them.

Or you could possibly feel stuck because you’ve done things for them for so long you have no idea how to transition out of it.

The thought of transition is an important one especially if you’ve been doing things for them for an extended period of time and are thinking of finally getting them to start doing things for themselves. If it happened over an extended period of time it will equally take a while to make changes. Also, remember that you’ve had time to process the idea of making changes and they haven’t had that luxury.

Helping them too much is not helping them.

If let’s say, you bring your loved one a cup of water and their toothbrush in the morning to brush their teeth but they can actually walk to the bathroom… then consider having them brush their teeth there. Sure it’s possible they couldn’t do that before and if they had a catheter in at the hospital there would be very little reason to get out of bed. But if they can do it… have them do it. 

If they don’t need to be in bed anymore… get them out of bed in the morning. Have them go back for naps and at night but have them get up and move around a little. Remembering of course that if a person has been under anesthesia and has been bed-bound for a while it will take a lot of energy for them to be up for even five minutes. So do it five minutes at a time.

Maybe your loved one is bed-bound. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t move. In fact, it’s better for them if they do move. So maybe you get them to sit up and do some movement with their arms, have them move their legs and if they need help moving - help them. 

If they have to have physical or occupational therapy get them to do their exercises at home. If they don’t want to… try to do them together. 

Here’s the thing I see a lot of …

Caregivers doing everything for the person they care for and then they get burnt out and want to stop. Then they get frustrated and angry with the person they care for because they won’t take care of themselves. 

That usually happens when boundaries are not set.

What do I mean by that?

Let’s say it’s midnight… I’m exhausted but not asleep yet. My husband is almost recovered from surgery and is fully able to get in and out of bed and do things for himself. He turns to me and says… I’d really like to have something to drink. Now he probably has water by the bed and I’ll ask him if his bottle is empty and he’d say no but he’s tired of water and would like something different. 

I now have two options.
I can check in with myself and see how I feel about that statement. WIth me, there are two options. Options usually are ok fine or there’s nothing wrong with your legs!

If I say Ok fine even though I am exhausted it HAS to be because I am doing it out of love and he has been working really hard at getting back to doing things on his own. Or maybe I know he had a really rough day. Or possibly I am just really happy he is at home with me and feeling better and I’d love to do something nice for him. Doing something out of the goodness of your heart feels good and it strengthens the connection you have with that person. Great then, all good reasons. I go get the drink.

If, when he asks for a drink, I immediately get frustrated or angry. If I start listing in my head the number of drinks I’ve gotten for him in the past week or start asking myself how I became the eternal drink getter… then I know I need to set some boundaries for myself. If I would do it in anger. If I know I would stomp down the stairs and at some point slam the refrigerator. Then it’s a no. I would say to him - I’m really tired and I’d like to go to sleep but you can go down and get something - I’ll wait for you to come back up before turning off the lights. The boundary set is - I won’t do things that cause me extreme irritation, frustration, and anger if I don’t need to. 

There’s nothing wrong with that and both options are done out of love for him and for myself. 

What I won’t do is hear the request, get angry, start complaining about all the things I do for him and why can’t he do things for himself. Continue to yell at him as I huff out of the room. Stomp downstairs. Pour him something in anger. Slam the refrigerator door. Stomp back upstairs out of breath and angrily hand him his drink with daggers coming out of my eyes. I wouldn’t want a drink from myself if that’s how it was to happen.

If it sounds like I’ve had some experience with this type of situation you’re right. It took me a while to figure out how important setting boundaries are in caregiving. The thing is when you do set boundaries almost always the person you care for benefits from them because you are a happier person around them. 

And this isn’t about a drink. This same analogy can fit in if your spouse refuses to use the bathroom because a bedpan is easier for them. Or maybe someone has to use crutches and you go get them even if they are within their reach. You have to know why you’re doing it and pity is NOT a good reason why.


When my husband starts to feel better I know that I have to start letting him do things for himself and I need to reset the boundaries. I need to start asking if what I am doing during the day is allowing him to do the things he can do - even if they might be slightly difficult or frustrating, but not impossible. Am I taking into consideration the type of day he’s been having and how he’s feeling? Does he need a break - since he isn’t good about asking for them? 

When I start resetting the boundaries he will at some point become cranky about it. I understand that… he is hurting, he’s tired, he’s just done with always needing surgeries, he hates having cancer and just wants to go to sleep. I'm ok with him getting cranky with things because I know it’s something he needs to go through. I fully support him expressing his frustration but boundaries are always set up in my life on how people can talk to me and he knows to use his words wisely. 

As caregivers, we all need to have boundaries set on how we allow people to speak to us but we’ll have to save that for another episode…

Just these simple things may be difficult for caregivers to do. We all have the ways we like to serve the people in the world we live in and we do it for different reasons. We all have different personalities and different childhood and adult experiences. 

But no matter how different we all are there are two things that are universal 

  1. People should be allowed, supported, and encouraged to do things for themselves.
  2. Everyone needs boundaries to protect the energy they have to live their lives the best way they can.

If you can start to look at your life you might begin to see a lot of places this is applicable. With your extended family, with your parents and children, With doctors and nurses. 

Don’t always jump in to help someone and make sure you are not doing things that suck the life out of you. 

We have to remember that the people we care for are emotional humans. They have fears and experience pain just like the rest of us. When we fail to see them as such and when we live to hate being a caregiver it’s just a sad situation. It isn’t impossible to come back to a place of love and remembering why but if you can keep yourself from getting there… if you can remember and practice setting boundaries… if you can let them do things for themselves and use empathy and compassion to try to figure out what that is on any given day… then we are putting in the work towards loving our life as caregivers and enjoying being around the person we care for. 

If you need help setting boundaries come to the website www.loveyourcaregivinglife.com and leave me a message.

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