Feeling sandwiched? I can relate. Thanks largely to advances in medicine that have led to women having children well into middle age, and technologies that have led to increased life expectancy, many Gen X women are also finding themselves members of another generation: the sandwich generation. That is, we are raising children while taking care of our aging parents. Simply put, we are overstuffed and overwhelmed!
The problem is that caring for our kids and parents aren’t the only highly demanding role that we must function in. In addition to these responsibilities, we are also busy professionals or entrepreneurs, wives or partners, we’re involved in churches and/or ministries, and may be members of philanthropic or civic organizations. And somehow, after ensuring that we don’t drop any balls, we don’t have much left for ourselves. Here are some practical tips for staying sane, keeping your head in the game, and making sure you that while you are caring for everyone else you take care of YOU!
- Acknowledge the situation: The truth will set you free. But the truth that you know empowers you simply because now you are responsible for doing something about it. Own where you are. Admit to yourself that you are a busy mom, you have a lot on your plate, and you’re having a challenging time balancing it all. Trust me, no one will look at you sideways. In fact, they might just pat you on the back and fess up to also admitting the overwhelm.
- Chunk your time: When caring for aging parents who may have emerging or chronic medical needs, try scheduling as many medical appointments and related errands on the same day as is feasible. While doctor’s appointments may take longer blocks of time, trips to labs for testing, imaging or scans, physical therapy or pharmacy visits are shorter ones that can be stacked! Careful and strategic planning, allowing extra time for traffic, doctors running late, and other snafus can decrease stress on these days. This tip definitely helps maximize the day off you took to help your parent.
- Tap into your village and ASK FOR HELP!: If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes an even more extended village to raise that same child while also assisting our aging parents. Rely on your tribe, and utilize your established network which includes your spouse or partner, your siblings, adult or older children, and even trusted friends. They can help you run your parents or children to appointments, and take some of the responsibility off of your plate. Be honest with them and let them know that you need help; that the constant responsibility is wearing on you.
- Establish your boundaries: Many times people lean on us and aren’t aware that their leaning is causing us to be off kilter. Firm boundaries keep others from inadvertently stepping into your lane: the time that should be set aside for YOU! The boundary could be a cutoff time each day, or that you will set aside no more than 2 Saturdays a month, or whatever makes sense in your life and is in line with the needs of those in your orbit.
- Get support!: Resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and AARP have FREE community-based eldercare support groups. Here you can find solace and experience understanding from a community of people who get together and sharing stories about how they are dealing with the same challenging experiences!
- Implement ‘smart’ practices: We live in the i-age! The Internet and smartphones are meant to make navigating life easier. So let’s make life easier! Implement ‘smart’ practices to make caring for your aging parent easier. Place prescriptions on auto-refills, and utilize mail-order pharmacies so that it’s one less errand you’ll have to run. Schedule telemedicine appointments as clinically appropriate to help minimize in-office visits and interruptions to your workday. And UBER and Lyft are also options for transporting your parents to appointments if this is an appropriate option and if your presence isn’t needed.
- Take care of you: Let’s be honest, shall we? If you’re burnt out and have nothing left to give to yourself, you’re not effective in any other role with others in your life. Scheduling parent days off, alternating responsibilities weekly with a sibling or someone in your village, and being mindful of your emotional state will allow you to address your self-care needs. Self-care could include spa days, a regularly occurring exercise regimen, maintaining a healthy diet, recurring psychotherapy check-in appointments, a girl’s night out, and the list can go on. The point here is to simply pay attention to where you are emotionally and how you are feeling. And importantly, to be a little selfish and very intentional about taking care of you.
I hope that by implementing these practices, you’ll be able to find some much needed time for you, and a bit more peace and acceptance as you journey on this path!
Dr. Nicole Alford, aka ‘The Good Dr. Nik,’ is a DMV-based
clinical psychologist, prolific blogger, mental health advocate
and activist. Follow her on all social media platforms