Community//

Holly Robinson Peete: “It’s easy to put yourself last”

When you spend so much time caring for and thinking about other people, it’s easy to put yourself last. While this is an easy habit to slip into, it’s critical to check in with yourself, especially during quarantine. Family caregivers often let their own health decline, but taking the time to make doctors’ appointments, exercise, […]

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When you spend so much time caring for and thinking about other people, it’s easy to put yourself last. While this is an easy habit to slip into, it’s critical to check in with yourself, especially during quarantine. Family caregivers often let their own health decline, but taking the time to make doctors’ appointments, exercise, eat right and get enough sleep will ensure I’m the best caregiver I can possibly be for both my mother and children. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really tried to revisit health and wellness and try to stay as healthy and fit as I possibly can for my family.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Robinson Peete, actress, author, talk show host, activist and philanthropist who has been touched by the entertainment industry almost all of her life.

Her career as an actress dates back more than three decades and has led her to becoming a voice for her father, her son and her community. In 1997, Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, formed the HollyRod Foundation, inspired by her father’s courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease, with the mission to help improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s.

Then in 2005, inspired by their eldest son’s autism diagnosis, HollyRod Foundation’s mission expanded to provide support and resources to those affected by an autism diagnosis. Through the HollyRod Foundation and her family’s personal experiences, Robinson Peete has become one of the most trusted advocates for consistent and reliable education, outreach and support for both Parkinson’s and autism.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My family has always been involved in show business — my father as a writer and producer, and my mother as a talent manager — and as a young adult I naturally gravitated toward acting. This career path allowed me to grow into the entertainer, author, activist and philanthropist I am today, and has offered me a platform to raise awareness for causes I care deeply about.

My first experience in front of the camera was when I was 4 years old. I appeared on television opposite my father, Matthew Robinson, who portrayed the original beloved character of Gordon on “Sesame Street.” Later, upon finishing college, I found my way back to the entertainment industry and starred in roles in “21 Jump Street,” “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” “Chicago Fire,” “Mike and Molly,” and others, as well as a number of Hallmark Christmas movies.

In 1997, my husband Rodney Peete and I formed the HollyRod Foundation, inspired by my father’s courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease, with the mission to help improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s. Then in 2005, following our eldest son’s autism diagnosis, HollyRod Foundation’s mission expanded to provide support and resources to those affected by autism. Through the HollyRod Foundation and my family’s personal experiences, my career evolved from solely acting to advocating for consistent and reliable education, outreach and support for Parkinson’s, autism and family caregiving.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

When I’m not working on an upcoming movie or the HollyRod foundation, you can find me raising awareness to support family caregivers. I’ve been involved with caregiving since a very young age, and it has shaped the person I am today. After my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I eventually became his primary caregiver for 20 years; during this time, there weren’t a lot of resources, support or technology for family caregivers like there is today. I wish I’d had more help and information, which is one of the many reasons I speak openly about caregiving and bring the topic into mainstream conversations.

I began working with GreatCall, a connected health company, last year, with the goal of spreading awareness and resources for fellow caregivers. As someone who has been a long-time caregiver for their parents, and has cared for my young children at the same time — what’s known as the “sandwich generation” — I know how it feels to be stretched thin, alone and without any resources for direction. This is especially true now with COVID-19, and the quarantining and social distancing required. Caring for my children and being there for my mother at the same time was the catalyst to do my research and partner with a technology organization I believe in and trust, and that can help other caregivers like me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother Dolores and I are extremely close and always have been. I’ve learned so much from her during her time working in the entertainment industry, and eventually from her support as my acting career took off. She lived with me and my family during the filming of “Meet the Peetes” on the Hallmark Channel, and we had the opportunity to spend so much quality time together. My mom is 84, but she’s spunky and active and I’ve learned so much from her about aging actively and enjoying life. Despite this, she’s had to make compromises as she gets older, which I’ve learned a lot from observing.

That said, our relationship dynamic has shifted slightly as I’ve stepped into a supporting role as a family caregiver. As people get older, it can be challenging to give up certain activities and their autonomy, but my mom has been very flexible and understanding, embracing her relationship with aging and asking for help when she needs it. Her flexibility and grace has helped me become a more understanding caregiver and mother. There’s give and take in the caregiving role, and while I feel responsible for her health and safety, she makes it fun, remains steadfastly independent and reminds me that at the end of the day, she’s still my mom.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

The most vulnerable population to the COVID-19 outbreak is the aging population, and as such, family caregivers must be educated on the steps they should take to help keep themselves and the older adults under their care safe, healthy and happy during an otherwise difficult and uncertain time.

One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced thus far during this pandemic has been caring for my mother from a distance. My mother lives in Palm Springs, and our mother-daughter caregiving relationship has evolved from long-distance with regular visits to completely virtual. For many caregivers like myself, the usual challenges of caregiving are exacerbated by the virus and social distancing procedures. It’s critical to prioritize socialization and mental health for both older adults and their caregivers, and technology can be — and has been! — a meaningful resource during this time to prevent social isolation and loneliness while social distancing.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

As we adjust to changes in routine and lifestyle as a result of the pandemic, I’ve scheduled regular virtual check-ins, happy hours and game nights so my mother feels connected to the family and loved. Technology has played a huge role in our ability to keep in touch, with regular phone and video calls. Additionally, to address challenges and alleviate the stress of caregiving from a distance, I got my mom an easy-to-use cell phone and personal emergency response device that she always wears. That way, if she ever needs to get in touch with me or emergency services, she has resources at her fingertips.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Caring for my aging mother, having four kids including a son with autism, and working in the entertainment industry has been a balancing act. The overlap in caring for multiple people can be draining, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to (and can’t) do it all on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it — whether it’s from family, friends or a network of other caregivers. Find resources that will help you navigate your individual caregiving relationships such as books, blogs, caregiving support communities and/or technology.

As a caregiver, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that everything is on you. Especially as a member of the sandwich generation, it’s twice the responsibility. However, I’ve found that one of the most effective tactics for balancing it all and alleviating stress is leveraging the wider caregiving community. There are so many resources out there by and for caregivers, and it’s opened my eyes to crucial caregiving practices and tips that truly make me a better caregiver. Whether it’s a fellow caregiver, or a company like GreatCall that’s dedicated to helping older adults live more independently, there are resources out there solely dedicated to easing the journey of caregiving. By acknowledging that you’re not on this journey alone, caregiving instantly seems less strenuous and more manageable with the other responsibilities in life.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

When you spend so much time caring for and thinking about other people, it’s easy to put yourself last. While this is an easy habit to slip into, it’s critical to check in with yourself, especially during quarantine. Family caregivers often let their own health decline, but taking the time to make doctors’ appointments, exercise, eat right and get enough sleep will ensure I’m the best caregiver I can possibly be for both my mother and children. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really tried to revisit health and wellness and try to stay as healthy and fit as I possibly can for my family.

Additionally, there are various acts of mindfulness that have really helped me cope with the uncertainty in the world today. Practicing gratitude and reminding myself of how lucky I am to have family, meditation and yoga have helped me to stay centered, calm and grateful — even when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stretched too thin. It’s really important to spend time with yourself, and for yourself.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is from my mother, which is: “There are so many twists and turns in the road. It’s a real skill to take what’s bad and turn around and make it good. That strong survival instinct is the key to everything.” I keep this in mind wherever life takes me, whether it’s caring for her as she ages, caring for my family, balancing work and travel or running the HollyRod foundation. I know that all the challenges life has thrown at me have led to necessary life lessons and some amazing blessings — and I wouldn’t change one minute of it.


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