In the last two months we recognized two rather important and popular holidays: Mother’s Day & Father’s Day. No doubt, this year’s iterations of those holidays took on new meaning as we struggled to celebrate them for the first time in our lives during a pandemic.
Beyond air hugs and other special precautions the basic struggle remains, how to best care for our aging parents? Does the coined phrase “Sandwich Generation” have particular meaning in your life right now? Are you trying to balance those responsibilities with your own needs pertaining to midlife issues and still caring for your teenage and pre-teen children? Perhaps you’re balancing a full-time job and caring for older loved ones—that can be a handful, too.
Personally, I remember the day this all became too real in my life very clearly. About 10 years ago during my normal weekly visit to my parents’ house, I opened the freezer door and found not ice cubes in the ice bin, but an egg—a single, frigid, egg. Of course, I asked, “What is this egg doing in the freezer?” But there would be no cogent reply from either parent, only a blame-shifting session of “It wasn’t me,” followed by “Don’t look at me” and some mumbles and grumbles from both. After my initial shock of seeing how quickly each was willing to throw the other under the bus, I realized what the future might look like for me, the youngest child and daughter in the family.
Not much later after this episode, my father’s driving privileges were rescinded after a frantic afternoon of searching our township roads for him when he became disoriented coming home from the doctor. (At that point, it was clear who the egg-freezer was.)
And so it began. My mother hadn’t driven in decades, so now there was no one to do the grocery shopping, the prescription pick-up, the health screenings, and hair appointments. My life had been blissfully and conveniently situated prior to this time with them living just a block from my office. I simply went for lunch a couple of times a week and looked in on them.
It would be years before I realized the genuine toll my new caregiver scenario would take on my health and wellbeing. I no longer felt like the untethered mother of a new high school graduate and ruler of my domain at work. I felt like one of those people who had a mile-long to-do list, but was only able to run a three-quarter mile efficiently.
As I implemented my new roles of chauffeur, personal shopper, accountant, and home handyman, my work suffered. I suffered. I developed tension headaches and digestive issues, along with my newer perimenopausal symptoms. The worst part of it all, I couldn’t say anything about it. I didn’t feel I had the right to complain because this was a normal part of life, right? They had done everything right and raised me well; raised me to be the type of person who could handle all of this. I couldn’t let them down. Could I? Sublime guilt took hold.
Not until it had been brought to my attention at work that I seemed stressed and distracted over the situation, did I take the measures I needed to regain some equilibrium in my life. I looked into grocery delivery options and signed them up, I enrolled them in the Meals on Wheels program to help supplement their diets, my brother pitched in to help with finance and health insurance matters, and my older sister took on more of the appointment driving.
One thing I wish I had done that I did not was get help for myself for the stress I was feeling at seeing my wonderful, capable parents become incapable and dependent. That is what took its greatest toll on me. At the time I’m sure I felt it was a luxury.
Indeed, if I had known what I know now about self-care, I think I would have managed much better. I had to accept that I had to let go; let go of the things I could not control and realize that by delegating some of the responsibility I was able to spend more quality time with them—and that time, like they say of the years themselves was—golden.
Are you struggling with Sandwich Generation issues right now? Do you need to let go of some things in order to gain greater clarity and equilibrium? Start now. Practice some loving, self-care with this week’s Letting Go Meditation.