Encouraging others as a form of self-care.

Recently, I was told that I am a great encourager. I immediately smiled because, for me, this is the best encouragement of all. More and more, as I journey to discover what my purpose is, my gifts are, and where those gifts are best placed, I often come back to the idea of encouraging others. In the process of lifting others up, listening to their struggles, and, when asked, offering suggestions or ideas for growth, I feel the most at home in myself. This is who I am meant to be–the champion of the lonely, unheard, and unseen. The motivator of the stuck, the uncertain, the guide for someone on beginning a journey similar to ones I have walked.

Encouragement for others can also serve as a way to encourage ourselves. When we speak into the fears and doubts and uncertainties of those around us, we begin to hear these same words toward our own doubts, fears, and uncertainties. We can learn to be encouraging to ourselves by encouraging others. We can learn to care for ourselves by caring for others. Often we see our own struggles in the lives of others before we recognize them in our own lives, but something compels us to act, to speak into, to encourage.

Cheering other people along their own journeys of health, spirituality, or recovery, reminds me that I am not alone in my own similar journeys. I am learning that you don’t have to have it all figured out to encourage, support, and share insights with others. Sometimes it’s helpful to be a little further along in the journey, but that is not a requirement either. It just takes a willingness to be honest and open about your own journey and what you are learning through the process.

I am not the perfect parent, caregiver, wife, mentor, or friend, but I can be an encouraging one. And you can too!

Want to learn more about how encouraging others can be part of how you care for yourself? Sign up to get more encouraging posts like this with ideas and stories to inspire you!

Your health app doesn’t really measure your success

graphic of male wrist with a smart watch with an overlay text

Recently I posted an image on my Instagram that got a lot of traction. In part, it said, “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you don’t need to close your rings every day. You know your body better than your watch does, listen to it. Sure, it is rewarding to see progress, to get the rewards, but let us not be fooled into ignoring the deeper needs of our body, our mind, and our spirit. There is work to be done every day, and much of it is not measured by watches.

I know this to be true because I have done this before. After I had my kids, I was determined to get the weight off. The articles I read, the conversations I had with other moms, and the remarks I received when I began to lose the weight only reinforced the validity of my goals. I started a rigorous exercise routine as well as eating routine. I also began to keep track of the numbers. Every article told me where to cut calories in my foods or burn more calories at the gym. I pushed more into focus on food labels and the exercise equipment calorie count. But that wasn’t the only number that I honed in on. The number on the scale was my daily measure of “good” or “bad.” A good day was calories in were less than calories out. The more significant the difference between these two numbers, the “better” I was. And the number on the scale? Well, I had a goal of achieving my postpartum weight, but once I saw that number on the scale, I began to fear losing it. I began to “hedge my bet,” so to speak, and try to creep that number below the goal, “just in case” I gained a few.

Eventually, the number on the scale and the calories in was never low enough. The calories burned were never enough. This frantic mindset is something I worked really hard to break free of for the past 14 years. I have worked hard to re-focus my fitness goals on practical goals that support life-long health and nutrition. It has become more about healing and fueling, not reward and punishment.

And yet, those rings. If I am not careful, I can let those rings pull me back to that frantic headspace, doing just one more thing to close the loop. Even if it doesn’t make sense in my day. Unfortunately, there are no rings for spending time caring for my mom, writing a blog post, or talking with my friends and family. There are no rings for self-care (other than exercise). I don’t get “points” for these things, but the point of the training is to live, love, and be a part of the human race, community, and world.

So remember, goals are great, and we need them. But your watch, your fitness app, even your Bible app, does not determine your worth. Don’t let the gamifying of goal-setting get you stuck thinking you aren’t doing a good enough job at being you.

A dear friend once gave me some wisdom that I hope will encourage you in your day-to-day journey toward health or other goals.

“If you can put your head on your pillow at the end of the day and say, ‘I did my best for today,’ then you’ve succeeded.”

Your best today may not be the same as yesterday or tomorrow, but it still counts. You don’t have to take all the steps, just the next right step. You’ve got this!

Young girl, sitting on swing, early 1980's

Growing Up Caregiving: Coping with the New Normal (or Not)

I grew up as one of my mom’s caregivers. As her only child, I feel a special connection to her. For a few years between when she and my father got divorced and married my step-father before she got sick, it was just the two of us. Though my general impression of that time is positive, and I have a few specific fond memories, most of my childhood memories are of life post-diagnosis.

When she came home from the hospital, our existence went from the two of us to four: my mom, my new step-dad, me, and her illness. We were learning how to deal with each other and life in what was to become our new normal.

At the time, I did my best to be a good daughter. I eagerly tended to my mom, helping with her medications, prepared meals, and helped around the house (as much as one does at age 8). It was fun for a time. I was “playing house.” But eventually, the newness wore off, and things got more complicated. The stress of living with mom’s illness and her changing abilities affected us all, and it showed.

This stress manifested itself in several ways. It slowly sunk into my understanding that mom was sick, but not the kind of sick where she would “get better” in the way I had only known before her diagnosis. Though not a conscious decision on my part, I began to try to control what I could. In my child’s interpretation of my mom’s disease, I knew that any stress could worsen her. So, I rationalized that making good grades, not getting in trouble at school, and NEVER breaking the rules would help her stay out of the hospital.

Sounds great, right? Except that what started as a good intention, turned into a perfectionist and people-pleasing mindset. I became unable to speak up for myself. I developed a fear of confrontation and continued to struggle with expressing my feelings. (I was known as a bit of a crybaby. Even in high school, some people called me “spilled milk.”)

This way of coping became the “new normal” for me and something that, as I continued to experience more and more complex circumstances in life, I retreated to for comfort. Perfection and people-pleasing were the way I learned to “control” things around me. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work:)

As an adult, my caregiving continues. Thankfully, mom is still here, fighting every moment. But as I have matured, faced crises, developed new relationships, including getting married and having children, I have had to learn a different “new normal.” One that wasn’t about what others thought or how my mom would react. I needed to learn how to cope with my mom’s illness, with life’s curveballs and stressful circumstances, in a way that WOULD work.


Healthy coping skills were not the norm for me, and learning a new normal of self-care has taken decades. And honestly, I’m still a work in progress, but that’s been part of the healing for me. You see, I wanted to be perfect at coping just like I wanted to be perfect at caregiving and marriage, parenting, working, and friendship.

The new normal for me is that though I can work to be compassionate and caring in all of these roles, I will never be perfect. Learning this truth has made it possible for me to cope with the things I cannot control better. And while my life is definitely NOT normal, it’s normal enough for me.

Mom and me.

Growing Up Caregiving: Survival Mode

I have been a caregiver for my mom longer than I have been a mom. In 1984 my mother was diagnosed with an illness. She was hospitalized, surgery performed and then sent home months later with a ton of medications and a whole new way of maneuvering through life. One of my earliest memories is counting out her pills for her to make sure she took the right amount of the right kind of pill at the right time. I am not sure now whether this was something she needed me to do or if she was just giving me a job to keep my mind occupied. Either way, I took the role of pill-counter very seriously and performed it well. During the early days, I don’t remember much else that I had to do that was directly related to her illness, but I do remember the laundry, the dishes, and the house cleaning. I know that most kids have chores and that helping around the house is a normal thing, but I am not talking about “put your plate in the dishwasher” or “hang up your clothes.” It was more like there were things that needed to be done and the more mom tried to do them, the weaker she got. If I could do more, she would get stronger. So, the laundry didn’t get done every week and the sink was usually full before the dishes got washed. As I grew older, we all had our own things to be working on. I had school, my step-dad had work and mom? Her main job was just getting better, stronger. Sometimes she was able to work, but even then, we were always just doing things as they came up. We were surviving. This is not to say there were never good times, vacations, or other family members to help out, but the overall feeling was one of survival. My mom’s survival, my family’s survival, my own.

I was 8 when my mom was put in the hospital the first time. When she came home, she was still my mom, but things had changed. Over the last 37 years, I’ve learned to be both a child and a caregiver, a wife and caregiver, and a parent and caregiver. I’ve lived away from my mother and lived close, I’ve gone to college, traveled, vacationed. I’ve had my own illnesses, surgeries, and traumatic experiences. So far, I’ve survived. When I started this site, I was going to share all the wisdom, the tips, and practices that I have developed over the decades to survive, yes, but also to thrive! And while I do plan on continuing to share my experiences and the lessons I have learned, please know, I am still learning, I am still a work in progress. I have no secret formula for caregiving or marriage or parenting. And, in my life at least, there is no “balance” per se. But I’ve been on this journey a long time and if you are on a similar journey, I want you to know you aren’t alone. You will survive.

It Is Time To Talk About Caregiving and Codependency

Yes. It’s time. Time to talk about being a codependent caregiver or, as it is often referred to among mental health professionals, caretaking. Though sometimes the two terms are used interchangeably, caregiving and caretaking are two very different things. Caregiving is providing care for a loved one by doing for them the things they cannot do for themselves. Caretaking, on the other hand, is when you take over activities, decisions, and handling issues that someone can and should be doing. In other words, you are taking the opportunity for someone to care for themselves away from them. As someone who has been a caregiver most of my life, I can see how I often slip into the role of the codependent caregiver. What seems to me at the time to be the thing I must do is often the very thing that I need to not do.

One of the things that makes this most difficult is that what is needed at one stage of my mom’s illness may not always be needed, but I am a person of routine, so once I start doing something, I just keep doing it. Furthermore, it is also hard for me to start doing something I haven’t had to do before. Because of the nature of my mom’s illnesses, what she needs from day to day, week to week, also varies. Another factor at play here is that I am caring for my parent, my mom, the one who cared for me. I feel guilty NOT doing the things, not spending the time, not doing more, not doing “enough.” Spoiler, it is never enough. There is always something I should have done, could have done differently. (Note: this is not always something that comes from my mother, but just the voice in my head.) Perhaps this is complicated by the fact that just when I feel like I am caregiving to the best of my ability for my mom, I feel the pull of my children, my family…who is caring for them when I am caring for her?

So here I sit pondering, “Am I a good caregiver, for my mom? for my kids? Am I overcompensating for my insufficiencies as a caregiver by caretaking–removing opportunities for my mother to do the things she can and should be doing? What about my kids? Because I am not always giving them what they need, am I doing things they don’t need to make up for it? (Like doing their chores for them? cleaning their rooms? taking responsibility for their missteps?)

I am not writing all of this just to get texts and comments telling me what a good caregiver/parent I am. I know I am not perfect, and that is ok. But I am writing to come clean, to share a little piece of what being a sandwich generation caregiver is like sometimes. These are the things we must struggle with, and guard against. Caretaking or codependency is not the answer but it is so easy to fall into that pattern. Just doing the thing is easier than dealing with the tension of saying no. I wonder if fear of confrontation goes hand in hand with codependency. Perhaps. I do not know for sure. But one thing I do know if I am a codependent caregiver I will not only take away opportunities for my mother to maintain her independence, but also the opportunity for my children to learn it. It also keeps me from being able to live in the freedom to pursue my own hopes, dreams, and goals. It inhibits my own ability to care for myself. Exploring my own behavior and seeking help to learn strategies, boundaries, and tools for caregiving is the next step for me. I want to live and love and care for others in a way that builds them up while at the same time not tearing me down.

Do you struggle with codependency and caregiving? You are not alone. Sign up to get emails from me sharing what I am learning about healthy caregiving and parenting.

pondering life

How Long Until I Get It Right? The Myth of “Balance” in Caregiving

Note: I originally published this post on my old blog on 06/29/2017. And exactly three years later it still rings true. I am re-posting here to show that after three years, actually 30+ years, I am still a work in progress. I am still trying to get it right while trying to remember that “right” isn’t always easy, and the balancing act of parenting, caregiving, and being a wife, friend, employee, person, is not so much about perfection, its about persistence, perseverance, and progress. I don’t have this all figured out, I still struggle with being burned out, worn out, and stressed out. But I am not out. I am in, and I am not giving up.

“How long ‘til my soul gets it right? Will any human being ever reach that kind of light?”-Indigo Girls

One of my favorite song lyrics and a refrain that often runs through my head whenever I am having ‘one of those days.’ We all have them, though they look different to each one of us. Recently, I had ‘one of those’ weekends. My mother, who is disabled, was having some complications due to surgery and needed my undivided attention. Literally. I could not think about the fact that summer reading wasn’t getting done, the laundry was piling up, and I hadn’t seen my kids for longer than 5 minutes for 3 days. My husband and I communicated only briefly and mostly in texts. It was evident to me at the time that this was the right decision. There was no other choice. It was necessary and right that I was with my mother, assisting in her care, and being her advocate when she couldn’t speak while on a ventilator.

But there must have been something in the back of my mind telling me that I was doing something wrong or that I could do something better.

As I entered into the week, I remembered that I promised my son a fun week with his friends and arranged for a series of activities and sleepovers. Yes, I did this after a weekend with no sleep, but I felt it was important to honor my promise to my son.

Perhaps I also did it to quiet the feeling that I wasn’t giving my children the attention they needed, that it wasn’t ‘their fault’ that my mom was sick and I had to be away. Or the comparison I make to other moms I know who seem to squeeze in multiple activities while managing full-time jobs or ailing parents too.

Things are going well: Mom is at home, there have been 2 successful days of my son hanging out with friends, and a successful or unsuccessful sleepover (if the kids stay up all night is that success or failure?). Still, something is reminding me that when I am with my mom, I am not with my kids who need me. When I am with my children, I am not with my mom, who needs me.

And I constantly wonder why I can’t figure this out? Why is this so hard? How long till my soul gets it right?

How am I going to care for my mom in the way she needs and be intentional and present with my children? Is there a formula, a calendar, a course, a study I can use to make sure I am doing it right? There are plenty of things out there telling me what I should be doing as a caregiver, and my inbox is full of blog posts and tips on how to be a better wife and mother. Say this prayer, do this devotional with your kids, practice active listening, put away your smartphone…you get the idea.

And then there’s all the stuff that says, “don’t forget to take time for you!” Yeah? Really? When am I supposed to do that?

Before or after the healthy meal I’m expected to prepare, the quality family night I should be doing, the date night with my husband, or when I am trying to spend time with my mom that doesn’t include medications or doctors’ appointments? When I do one of these things or attempt to do them, something else that is ‘good’ gets left off.

I have to make choices, and sometimes the choice is between two good things, and there are no easy answers. Sometimes I feel like I get it right, but most of the time my soul feels like it’s all wrong.

After 30+ years as a caregiver and 13 years as a mom AND caregiver, I am still learning and coming to the realization that my soul may never get it right. Well, I guess it depends on what ‘it’ is.

So much of the time I am striving for the wrong thing.

I have struggled with perfection for most of my life. This has manifested itself in many ways throughout the years, stress about grades, body image and eating disorder issues, and the need to prove myself at work, at home. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, mostly myself.

I have set the bar high and then berate myself when I do not reach it.

When it comes to being a daughter and mom (and a wife for that matter), I want to ‘follow the rules’. Any article that says “10 things all ‘good’ moms do…” (or daughters or wives) I am all in! I read it, internalize it, and then attempt to follow that set of guidelines. I always fail miserably. I cannot get it right.

Instead of reaching for these arbitrary goals, these subjective guidelines that change with every new blog post, I want to seek something that is permanent, true, and attainable.

As a Christian, I know that ‘my soul’ was not meant to get some things right. I am not supposed to be perfect. I will not be able to be perfect or perfectly meet the needs of those I love. I wasn’t designed for that. I was designed to love God and love others. I may not be able to get it right, to always be the perfect representation of what I am to my family and friends. But I can love them.

Love doesn’t have a set of ‘rules’ either. I can’t follow a list to get it right, but I can follow Christ’s example of loving others.

Sure, this is something in which I will want to achieve perfection. However, though I can follow His example, only Jesus can love like Jesus- with total devotion, undivided attention, with perfection. My job isn’t to do that, only to seek it, wrap myself in it, and reflect it in my interactions with others. My role is not to love perfectly but to point to the One who does. In this there is no striving for perfection, just practicing my purpose.

Go. Connect. Serve. Love. Not who is on my ‘list,’ but who is in my life.

self care idea, facial

Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: Self-Care for Caregivers

self care idea, facial
Taking time for self-care is important, especially for caregivers.

Have you ever gone for that pedicure or massage and felt like it was more work to get the “free time” to do it than it should be? By the time you make sure the kids are taken care of, your family is all squared away, the house has been managed, the ducks are in a row…you’re running out of the house and promising you’ll be back soon. Then, you finally get your “you-time” and you can’t relax. Guilt, amiright?

Why is it that we, as busy moms and caregivers, feel so guilty about taking a little time for ourselves, about taking CARE of ourselves? After all, sometimes it’s not just about guilt over the massage or pedicure, it’s about cooking the foods that are best for YOU, taking time to exercise in a way that makes you feel good, doing something you enjoy just for the sake of doing it. Though these seem like small things, they are part of what self-care means, but that is not all it means.

Self-care for caregivers isn’t an activity, it’s a regular practice. I might even say, a mindset. What would happen to your energy level, your stress level, your sense of peace, if you took the time to take care of yourself every day? What if you even prioritized it over taking care of others.

I know, this sounds inconceivable. I hardly can even believe I just typed it, but what if? How could taking care of yourself help your relationship with others, your ability to care for, and give care to your loved ones?

This is a hard thing to ponder, but I think it’s worth exploring. When we are at our best physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, how we experience and cope with our circumstances, how we interact with our family and friends, how we care for others is bound to be better. Caregiving is life-giving, especially when we start with ourselves.

What are your thoughts on self-care for caregivers? How are you incorporating self-care into your routine?

What is the ‘Sandwich Generation’ Anyway?

It’s 8:49 p.m. on a Thursday. I have been up since 5:30 a.m. and have worked a full workday, helped my kids with school, done some housekeeping, made dinner for my family. After dinner, I went to my mom’s to help her sort through some issues with her health care, prepare for her next phase of treatment, and safely get to bed. I am now back home to “watch tv” with my family while working on this blog.
I should be folding laundry, or washing laundry, or unloading the dishwasher, or talking to my husband. I should have stayed with my mom longer so she wouldn’t feel so alone. I should get to bed so I can get a good night’s sleep and be productive at work tomorrow.

These are the feelings that squeeze me in every day. We are squeezed between caring for the younger generation (our kids) and the older generation (our parents), we are the Sandwich Generation. Can you relate? Are you similarly feeling the squeeze between all of your responsibilities? Wondering how to find time to do it all and wondering what happened to you in the midst of all of it? Do you feel guilty about your kids when you are caring for your parent? When you are caring for your kids, do you wonder if your kids are going to be ok? Does the laundry pile up? Is the sink overflowing? Is your gym membership card gathering dust at the bottom of your purse? Yeah, I have been there.  I’ve been caring for my mom since she was diagnosed with an illness when I was 8.  Fast-forward thirty-plus years and I am married, have kids, and dreams and goals of my own. This blog, this website, my YouTube channel is all about sharing what I’ve learned over the years…I found hope and health and happiness even in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty that often accompanies caregiving and parenting. If you are tired of feeling alone, guilty for not taking better care of yourself (but also feeling guilty when you do), if you are looking for some encouragement, practical tips, and resources to help you feel UN-squeezed…you have found the right place. WELCOME!