5 Commandments to Thriving as a “Caretaker”

I dropped off some soup to a good friend recently because she was working, as she usually does on a Saturday, and I was thinking it would be nice if she came home to a nice dinner. She lives up the block from me so it didn’t feel like too much trouble.

Truth is that same weekend I did a lot of favors. I walked a friend’s dog while she was away for the weekend, picked up my sister at the bus stop when she worked late, and helped my other sister with her two little boys. Often people find this puzzling because I am a single mom and when my children go to their dad on the weekend I am often not doing as much relaxing or partying as one might imagine.

Truth is, I love doing nice things for the people I care about. It makes me feel good. I give out to the world the love and caring I would hope to get back

I’ve been called a classic “caretaker.”

5 Commandments to Thriving as a CaretakerPhoto by Karolyn Petrucci

What kind of person is a caretaker?

If you look it up in Psychology Today they will tell you I have some issues

A caretaker puts the needs of others before their own. They aren’t really good at taking care of themselves. They have a hard time saying No. They are usually out to “fix” or “save” their partner.  They do not like conflict.  A lot of times they have low self esteem and anger issues. They can’t understand why others do not behave the same way. In essence, this trait develops due to certain experiences during their youth.  The caretaker normally would have been brought up in a home where their emotional needs were not met.  It would not be uncommon for a child of an addict or a child with a parent who is somehow unwell to become a caretaker as an adult.

Hmmm… so I took a really long look at myself in the last few years.

The process of self-discovery

The divorce:

I went though a divorce between 2009 and 2010. Looking back, I would say the relationship was flawed from the start.  With hindsight I can definitely see that I entered into the relationship as the caretaker.  I actually knew it. I remember thinking that he is a good guy, he just needs a little direction. He was very happy to be taken care of for the most part. My ability to take charge and run with it suited him fine. It felt normal and comfortable. I was happy to do it.

However, there were times I felt like it was not reciprocated. It puzzled me. It hurt. I can honestly say I gave it my all for a really long time. Ultimately, I think we fell apart when my children arrived. They turned out to be on the autistic spectrum. They needed me. I knew they needed me more than a grown man does. It upset the balance of the relationship. At some point, and honestly I’m not sure when… it all fell apart. I had to take care of them more than him.

Looking back I am relieved it all fell apart.

His needs would have sucked the life out of me. Actually, I think they already were.  It’s amazing that we were together as long as we were.  It’s not natural to always be giving to someone mentally, emotionally and physically. I ran the household finances, cooked, cleaned, shopped, took care of the children, was his cheerleader….there was never much left for me. I am not saying he forbid me from doing something for myself… there just was never any time or energy left for me.

The childhood:

Coming out of the other side of that and having a friend point out to me my desire to take care of people I started to look hard in the mirror. Over the years I did so much for myself and by myself. I felt really uncomfortable asking for help. I still do to some degree but I am working on that. In order to move forward I had to get to the root of my Why.

My parents are still happily married to this day. They are solid citizens. I had a normal and happy childhood. I would say we have a happy and functional family dynamic. So why was I working myself to the bone?  Was I trying to get canonized!?

Then it hit me. I have two sisters I adore and can’t imagine having lived the last few years without them. They are 11 and 15 years younger than me.  I was an only child until I was 11.  Then when I was 15 my parents had another baby. To say that our family is not typical is an understatement.

Having a new baby in the house at 11 or 15 you are not jealous the way a 2 year old would be.  However, you are still emotionally immature.  Your parents can’t possibly have much time for your stage of life because well they have an infant. I don’t remember much about that time but I can guess that I took care of myself a lot. I was a mature and easy child. I never really needed anyone to help with homework.

I’m not saying it “scarred” me. However, it does explain why I feel most comfortable taking care of myself. Before I met my husband I was in a relationship for a long time with someone who loved to dote on me and take care of me. I can’t say I hated it but after a while it felt smothering. It almost felt like “do you think you are my dad?”

Why finding yourself is important

So, I am glad to say I figured out why I tick the way I do. I have no resentment over any of this. We all do our best. As a parent I can say dividing time between children is always extremely challenging. Someone is always needier than the other. The child with the greatest need gets the most at any given moment. It’s just the way it is.

Knowing why I feel so compelled to do everything for myself has made me capable of not pushing that down but finding the balance. I actually think being a caretaker is pretty cool. I love being a giving and loving person. Now that I understand my own psychology I can set boundaries and let myself get comfortable with being taken care of. I can find balance as a caregiver. Ahhhh, this sounds awesomely magical!!

So, what happens going forward?

Understanding myself has really set me free. I know who I am and I embrace it. I have this philosophy that when we give love we get it back.

Love people the way you want them to love you. (tweet this)

Of course there will be people who can’t reciprocate. They are the ones that will drain us if we let them. It’s just a matter of recognition. The same way I realized who I am and why I need to be aware of the people I surround myself with. So….

5 Commandments for Thriving as a Caretaker

1-  No more soul-sucking friends

Friends that want to suck the life out of me need not apply any longer. I am happy to listen if you are having a crisis. I would also appreciate you listening if I have one.  I would also like to be able to discuss things that are important and entertaining to me.  Oh and I am not going to waste hours on drama. If you do not have the maturity to keep life straight, I’m just not interested in letting you pull me down. (tweet this) I can’t – it is draining and my upbeat spirit is too important to me.

2 – Don’t settle on just any man

Men who will take advantage of my good nature are also off limits. For instance, if a man does not understand that my children’s needs come first – he is a big No-No.  Life is about balance… I can’t give all of my energy to just one person!  I am happy to lend an ear and support you. I would love to get that in return. You do not need to do everything for me. I am more than self sufficient. The little things are more than enough for me. Make me smile, tell me I’m awesome, ask me how I’m doing. More than anything I would love to have someone who asks me how I’m doing emotionally. It would be refreshing.

3 – Learn to say No

I’m the type of person that can be a bit of a pushover. I’m the girl that says Yes to a date even if I don’t like the guy. Or there are times people ask me to do something, not necessarily a favor, and even though I don’t want to do it I have a hard time saying No. I’m flexible and easy going. Sometimes to my own detriment. If I meet someone for say a movie, I will see what the other person wants and not pick my top choice. Now that sounds silly… but I really rarely make it about me. It’s the same thing when I meet someone for lunch or dinner. I’m usually the one that says “you pick”.  That’s all ok…. but every so often I am going to build my muscles and learn to be the one who calls the shots.

4 – Get in the right mindset at work

This one may be the hardest…work. I have been working on my own for a long time now. It’s hard to say no when a client asks me to do a job at the last minute or oversteps boundaries.  Boundaries are the key. I can not operate under the assumption that I will lose a client if I turn them down when they request something unreasonable or at the last minute.

5 – Love yourself no matter what

I will embrace who I am and love that this is who I am. I am a giving person. I enjoy doing nice things for people. When I know someone is having a bad day I love to drop them some homemade soup or cupcakes on their doorstep. It makes me feel good. I will not squash that.

Being the person who takes care of people still feels good to me. It feels right to be nurturing. I guess the biggest secret to balance is being smart about who we engage with. If we are loving and giving to people, we will get back what we give and then some.

Hmmmm, maybe I have a future with another caretaker?!

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 6.18.52 PMAbout the Author:

Tara is a single mom, blogger, runner, yogi, and advocate for eating real food that tastes good. She is passionate about all of the above in no particular order. She likes spreading the word that life is about getting out there to move, eating healthy and finding balance in life.  Maybe we can’t do it all, but we can try our best!

Questions for you:

  • Do you know anyone who is a “caretaker”?
  • Do you have any “commandments” to add to the list?

Let us know in the comments! Your feedback is encouraged and greatly appreciated!

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