How to Care Without Being a Caretaker | The BridgeMaker

How to Care Without Being a Caretaker

By on Nov 17, 2011

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. – Margaret Mead

Article written by guest contributor Kaley Klemp, Co-Author of The Drama-Free Office.

Many thoughtful individuals find themselves in important roles in organizations where they have great potential for collaboration. As thoughtful, caring coworkers, they offer substantial gifts to an organization.

Genuinely concerned for the well-being of others, they can be the cheerful enthusiast, ever gracious to those around them. Accomplished peacemakers, they know how to bring people together in harmony.

However, many of these people find they walk a fine line between caring and becoming a caretaker, someone who goes beyond protecting and supporting to rescuing, smothering, and enabling.

Caring vs. Caretaking

Caretakers take the burden of the problem squarely on their shoulders, perpetuating other dramatic behaviors. Caring, as opposed to caretaking, is grounded in empathic listening and simply being present, without the need to cure, heal, or fix.

I really saw this distinction in my own life this summer.

A good friend was traveling for several months and parked her car at my house. She asked me to drive it every once in a while, which to me meant twice – once when she left and once when she got back.

The problem was that when I tried to do the “get it ready for her to return” drive, it wouldn’t start. My caretaker took over. In trying to fix the situation, I called AAA and said that I was her (it was her car that was covered), but I didn’t know any of the security answers.

Instead of helping the situation, I almost got her membership revoked. Rather than calling her and telling her the situation –and listening if she had been upset – and letting her come to her own solution, I owned it myself… and created much more drama than the original situation!

Join or rescue?

When another person is caught in drama, the caretaker’s first reaction is either to join them or to try to rescue them. The more authentic approach is to offer support, advice, and coaching so the other person learns to address the situation on their own. This prevents dependency and encourages responsibility and growth in those still stuck in drama.

Caretakers often ignore the fuel gauge on their energy and run their tank dry. Authentic caring, in contrast, includes care for yourself, knowing both your capacities and your limits.

While it is noble and appropriate to serve and support others, it’s essential that you treat yourself with the same care. Authentic, caring people keep adequate fuel in their energy tank by setting and enforcing clean boundaries. They then monitor and preserve their energy for its highest and best uses.

Remember to nurture yourself

I’m sure you’ve seen or experienced this yourself. With the holidays just around the corner, the over-zealous host or hostess (Caretaker!) often arises. Like me, I’m sure you’ve sat down for Thanksgiving dinner only to realize that in her desire to make it the “perfect” holiday, the hostess was completely exhausted.

The conversation suffers as tinges of resentment exude from her or guilt arises in the other family members around the table. Think about how much more fun it is when everyone is in the kitchen – or dinner is done potluck style so that the hostess can preserve her energy to enjoy the family she only sees on these special occasions.

If you notice that you fall into caretaking tendencies, you might practice the following to help yourself shed enabling patterns. First, trust others to take care of themselves. Allow them to address the consequences of their own choices.

Then, nurture yourself. Remember to give yourself the same attention and care that you give others.

As you nurture yourself and take appropriate responsibility, your gifts become even more powerful.

More from Kaley Klemp

Kaley Klemp and Jim Warner are the authors of The Drama-Free Office: A Guide to Healthy Collaboration with Your Team, Coworkers, and Boss. You can get a free sample of the book on Facebook. Follow them on twitter. Read more about them at

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  • Hi Kaley,
    It’s often a fine line that we tread. To care fully for others, you firstly need to care for yourself. Then share ‘your care’ by showing, not by 100% doing…..this is where any coaching takes place. Thankyou for this, I don’t recall any article covering this.
    be good to yourself