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Last weekend, I hit a wall. The combination of the pandemic stress, my mom’s increasing needs, and my own struggle to keep connected with my children and husband in the midst of our busy and strained schedules, collided into me like a train, and I was knocked completely over. My fatigue, which is always looming, enveloped me. I was down and wanted to stay there…and sleep. The anxiety, which comes and goes with the daily uncertainties of life, parenting, and caregiving, welled up inside me until I could no longer contain it. More than just that overwhelmed feeling that I sometimes get that abates with some yoga or a good night’s sleep, this was a pervasive, full-body reaction to what I have been trying to just “get through” for the last several months. I burned out.

Days later, with a couple of good night’s sleep and some perspective, I am still burned out. I recognize that I have been allowing my circumstances, which I cannot always control, have begun to control me. I have been here before. Tossed by the changing winds of my circumstances, the mood pendulum going to extremes as I grasp for a sense of control, or really, if I am honest, stillness. I just want the crazy to stop. I want certainty. I want a plan. I want an easy button. And, I want someone to take care of me.

When you are called to care for others, parents, children, friends, students, clients, it is easy to forget that you are a person too. And, when we are so invested in the care of others, it is easy to be burned out on caring for ourselves. At the end of the day, there is nothing left. Honestly, sometimes there’s nothing left by 3pm.

But here’s the thing. When we put caring for ourselves first, we have more to give…others and the world in which we live. So, this week, I decided to place myself at the top of my list. Sure, I cannot stop caring for my kids or my mom, but there are many other things I can move off my plate. So I did. I took some time off work so that I could go see my doctors, spend more time in prayer and in journaling, and I scheduled an appointment with a counselor. Why? Because, self-care needs to happen even when I am working, even when I have a lot on my plate, I can’t control my outward circumstances. Self-care needs to happen BECAUSE of all of these things.

Another thing I am going to do is ask for the care I need from my family. I tend to shut down and pretend I can do it all, “I’m fine,” I say. But I am not fine and those around me won’t know it unless I am honest. Learning to speak up for myself is probably the hardest thing I will do this week, but I will still do it. Taking care of myself and asking for others to help me is the key to moving toward healing, wholeness, and a healthy mindset to sustain me.

In what areas of caring for yourself do you need to ask for help? Who can you ask to support and encourage you? I am here to cheer you on in your quest to take care of yourself so that you can live a full and caring life with others. You are not alone!

Young girl, sitting on swing, early 1980's

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.

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.

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.

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!