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

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
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?

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!