No Tresspassing

Professional boundaries with caregivers

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

I’m in a predicament. I am a retired, single man. Awhile back I hired a female caregiver to help take care of me and my house. At first she was strictly a caregiver. She would take care of me and my house, get paid, and leave. I wouldn’t see her until the next assigned time. If we talked on the phone, it was about the job. Purely professional.

But after about a year things began to change. There were times she would come when there really wasn’t much to do, but I enjoyed her company. I felt like I was paying for her companionship. Or we would talk on the telephone, purely for personal reasons. Nothing sexual, but personal, like needing a ride somewhere, or just talk. Or go for a walk, or lunch. If it were sexual, I think it would be even more complicated.

After awhile it became difficult to tell when she was my caregiver or a lady-friend. How does one keep those roles separate. It makes it difficult to know when I am supposed to pay her and when I am not.

In a Predicament

Dear Reader,

My hunch is that many people have experienced the “predicament” you have described. Why? Unfortunately, given human nature and the emotional nature of caregiving/care receiving, “fuzzy” boundaries (not a term you’ll find in the books,) are all too common. And those “fuzzy” boundaries often lead to confusion, disappointment, and inappropriate behavior.

The “perfect” caregiver is nurturing, sensitive, and compassionate; someone who enjoys feeling as though he/she is making a difference in people’s lives. These individuals are comfortable practicing patience, loyalty, and commitment to their clients. They have great integrity because they understand how important it is for their clients to trust them.

While perfection can be difficult to achieve, the well trained caregiver also understands the value of maintaining professional boundaries. By the very nature of the job, the caretaker has a powerful role. He/she exercises varying degrees of control over the client and also has access to very personal information and knowledge about the client.

Of course, depending on the circumstances, the individual receiving care can also be a bit a vulnerable. Often missing a previous life and coping with isolation,  and/or experiencing physical and/or emotional disabilities, it becomes quite easy to misinterpret behaviors and actions from his/her caregiver.

And yes, things can go really badly when sex enters the equation. I’m very glad you haven’t strolled down that path!

So, what are you to do given your current predicament? I’d strongly suggest you have a very honest discussion with this woman about how your relationship has evolved. While having a personal relationship understandably feels better at times,  the possibility of further confusion and  disappointment is high. In the aforementioned “perfect” world, this  relationship should re-wind to a more professional definition and each visit or call would be identified regarding the “business” at hand.

My hunch is that this will be difficult. Who wants to curtail a relationship that feels good? But further problems for both of you would be prevented.

Next on your “to do” the list? How do you go about improving your social circle? I believe if you had more contacts with others, you would be less inclined to rely on your caregiver for personal contact. I also recognize than branching out into the world may be challenging but ultimately, it can also be quite worthwhile. Start small. Something as simple as attending any of the great Senior Lunch programs will give you the opportunity you need to develop balanced friendships.

To others who are considering adding a caregiver to your lives, please make sure that, whomever you hire, has been either trained or vetted by a professional agency.

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