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Blog Short #191: How Do I Stop Taking Care of Everything and Everyone?

Photo by ArtMarie, Courtesy of iStock Photo

If this question resonates with you, I’m guessing you had to take on adult responsibilities early in life and got good at it.

Maybe you’re the oldest child in your family or the child who was the designated caretaker for your siblings. Whatever the case, you likely developed some exceptional skills from those experiences that you’ve taken into your adulthood.

That’s the good side.

The downside is you may be so good at caretaking that you’re easily taken advantage of and do more than your share in relationships.

This blog is for you in either case. I’ll discuss the pluses and minuses of being that person and give you some thoughts about how you can capitalize on the pluses and put those minuses to rest.

By the way, I’m the oldest of eight children, so I have a little inside experience that will help.

Let’s start with the pluses.

Assets of a Good Caretaker


Children charged with adult responsibilities, such as taking care of siblings and sometimes their parents, learn how to manage and prioritize tasks to keep everything running smoothly.

They’re super managers!

For example, if your parents worked and you had siblings, you likely learned how to do laundry, clean, prepare food, babysit, and perform basic duties for your siblings, like feeding, dressing, bathing, and keeping them occupied.

My mom did all those things in my family, but there were so many younger ones that I learned to do them all, too. We were a tag team for much of the home and caretaking responsibilities.


Managing a home and caring for children simultaneously requires getting good at multi-tasking.

You don’t actually multi-task. Research has taught us that multi-tasking involves quickly shifting your attention from one thing to another and back again as needed.

However, a good caretaker knows how to arrange and organize things to get the most done possible within a particular time frame.

For example, you can keep an eye on the kids while folding laundry and watching something on the stove. It’s tricky, but practice pays off. Caretakers are pros at this. You can do it at the office too.


Caretaking requires you to keep your attention focused outward.

Because you’re responsible for many tasks and people, you must be aware of what’s happening around you most of the time.

With many hours of practice, you get very good at seeing the big picture, as would a director or manager, while also noticing details that matter. You become proficient at reading a room, perceiving the emotional temperature, and anticipating what everyone needs.

These skills are particularly enhanced if your parents relied on you emotionally. Some adult children are hyperaware of their parent’s feelings and needs.

Children with dominant or authoritarian parents may be especially tuned into other’s emotions. The same is true if your parent used you as a confidante and turned to you for emotional soothing and support.

The other issue is the single parent who is drowning and must rely more on the oldest child to help emotionally and logistically.

All these situations create emotional hypervigilance that carries into adulthood.


If you were raised with many people and had adult responsibilities as a child, you learned to be flexible, even if that’s not your natural temperament.

Dealing with and managing many personalities at once forces flexibility if you are to survive.

Despite schedules, priorities, and plans, changes pop up constantly and require you to pivot to manage them.

Learned flexibility in early life helps you ride the waves of adult life, and you can choose more deliberately what to get worked up over and what to let go of.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but most early caretakers are flexible as adults.

Deficits of Becoming a Child Caretaker

Lack of Power

One of the standout deficits of being a child who performs as a caretaker is the conflict between having a lot of adult responsibility and little to no authority to make decisions, especially during adolescence.

This unnatural set of opposing drives can settle into your personality and show up repetitively in your adult life.

You might get into professions where you have a lot of responsibility and little decision-making power, or you might find yourself often working with domineering bosses who demand a lot of you without considering your needs.

The same can happen when choosing partners who demand extensive caretaking and give you little back.

It’s a known pattern that capable caretakers who have yet to learn to set boundaries attract people who want to be taken care of.

You’re a magnet for this person. And once they find you, they drain you.

They quickly learn how to guilt you into doing their bidding and take advantage of your skills. That’s one of the most significant downsides of being a child caretaker and bringing it into adulthood.

Difficulty Setting Boundaries

As a child and adolescent, you don’t have choices about how many caretaking responsibilities you take on, but as an adult, you do.

You can set boundaries to avoid being taken advantage of, but it isn’t easy. Being a caretaker without authority has become part of your identity, even if your parents didn’t mistreat you or take great advantage of you.

It’s still a pattern that’s gelled and requires reworking. You feel guilty when you refuse to accommodate someone.

Doing It All

Accomplished caretakers sometimes find it difficult to allow people to help them.

After all, you’ve earned your badge by getting very good at what you do, and even if you complain about it, part of you likes being the only one who can get it all done.

The problem is you won’t allow others to participate even as you’re overwhelmed and worn out. You have a hard time delegating and letting go. You’re a one-person show.

Difficulty Expressing Your Needs

When you’re the caretaker, the attention is on others’ needs, not yours. Your needs are pushed down both from the outside by others and from the inside by yourself.

Let’s take a moment here to distinguish caretaking from competence. You can be highly skilled yet have no problems asserting your needs and accepting help, even as you give. That’s competence.

The difficulty for caretakers is that they’re great at giving but need help receiving. They’ve been conditioned to put their needs on the back burner. Expressing them seems foreign and feels awkward and selfish.

They’re used to being needed, not wanting for themselves. However, they may secretly build up a cache of resentment that occasionally explodes.

What to Do

We’ve touched on what to do when listing the minuses, but let’s summarize it more succinctly.

1. Recognize

You may know you’re a caretaker and may be unhappy with your role, but you still need to fully recognize how much your history is involved in placing you there. Review it thoughtfully. Write it out.

In what ways was your caretaking role developed, and how are you still playing it out in your current circumstances?

2. Assess

Now, assess where you need to make changes. What boundaries do you need to set?

This is tricky because people who rely on you will object when you begin making changes. You may need to go slowly and have many conversations to work this out.

However, if someone is unwilling to consider your needs, you may need to set more stringent or permanent boundaries.

3. Express

Begin getting used to expressing your needs and desires, especially with people who are integral to your life.

To do this, you will also have to give up being in charge of everything, which will be difficult for you.

The paradox is that by doing it all, you feel some control, even if you’re being taken advantage of. By sharing responsibility, you get more time to attend to other things but give up some control.

Part of this step is getting comfortable with not managing everything and allowing others to do their part their way. It takes time to get used to, but ultimately, the shift is in your best interest and those involved. Everyone benefits.

The Goal

The goal is to use the skills you gained as a young caretaker. They’re super skills, and you’re lucky to have developed them early.

The second part of the goal is to be competent without being used or taken advantage of and to share responsibilities in your relationships so that everyone gets their needs met and you enjoy more intimacy and teamwork. It’s a win-win!

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,



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