Care for the Caregiver

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on November 15, 2011

QUESTION: My 26-year-old daughter is a wonderful nurse. She is well-loved by both colleagues and those in her care. There is a problem though. While she takes excellent care of others, she neglects many areas of her own life. Even though she has the funds, her bills aren’t paid on time. Needless to say, this has all led to a low credit rating. Her apartment is always in disarray and her clothes are often unwashed and unironed. I can’t even begin to wonder what she eats for dinner, if she eats at all. I am concerned for her future and a little confused about her lack of self-care since she was taught those skills growing up. Do you have any suggestions? She is very sensitive and the last thing I want to do is upset or embarrass her, but I feel I need to step in before she destroys her life. —June                   

RELATED: Caregivers: Set Boundaries

DEAR JUNE: Unfortunately what you describe is common among caregivers. If your daughter’s pattern of caring for others without adequate self-care isn’t remedied, she can begin to experience debilitating stress, burnout and compassion fatigue. This pattern of being “other-directed” usually takes hold in the early formation years. When a young child is praised for being compassionate, caring and selfless, this can become the core of their self-esteem. Chronic caring for others becomes a way of life. Does this sound like your daughter? If so, it’s time to begin a kind and thoughtful discussion. Speak to her from your perspective. Explain your concerns for her and for her future. Let her know you are on her side. Your daughter is currently overwhelmed with her life. To help move her in a healthier direction, provide one-on-one support in the areas that have become obvious to you. Help her organize her bills, or better yet, set up online bill pay. Introduce her to your favorite cleaners and give her a gift certificate where her clothes can be properly laundered. Shop with her at a local Farmer’s Market where she can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables for her meals. Helping her navigate the path to wellness might take time. Often those who provide care aren’t willing to accept care. But don’t lose hope. Modeling healthy self-care behaviors is probably the most effective way for your daughter to follow suit.  If you have serious concerns about her well-being, suggest a visit to a mental health professional.

Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (, the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at or