I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in Limboland, traveling around the east coast of the U.S., packing up my parents’ 59 years in the U.S. and helping them move to Israel. My sisters and I spent countless hours planning, arranging, discussing, and implementing this huge move. The other day, on some continent, on the fuzzy border between wake and sleep, it suddenly dawned on me, ‘Oh, this is what they mean by the sandwich generation.’
When I stated this to my Israeli born husband, he asked, “What’s the sandwich generation?”
“Well,” I replied, “when you feel equal responsibility for two distinct groups in your family, your parents, and your children, both who need, and demand, attention, assistance, and mental investment on equal, and sometimes opposing, levels.” I smiled proudly as I stated my nighttime epiphany.
He looked at me kind of strangely. “Oh,” he said, “you mean life?”
Right, this is life. Many people requesting our resources all at once. So what’s the answer? Obviously, people have written books on this topic, so I’m sure I’m not repeating anything new, but for those of you who feel that you experience these forceful polar tugs, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned on this journey.
- Pace Yourself – As my friend reminded me recently, this is a marathon, not a sprint. I just have to pace myself, and not think that every person’s issues will be resolved immediately. Slow and steady wins the race.
- Know Your Boundaries. I have gotten very adept at saying, “I’m sorry, but we can’t attend your (bar mitzvah, wedding, bris, pet naming, etc..). Unless it’s immediate family or a friend who is like family, I almost always decline attendance. This way I have the mental and physical resources to invest on those people that I want. The younger generation apparently suffers from FOMO [Fear of Missing Out]. I suffer from FOBI [Fear of Being Included].
- Find your Favorite Downtime Activity. And incorporate this into your schedule. Reading, watching inane TV shows, bike riding, even walking the dog. If it soothes you, keep it in your daily life.
- Be Gentle with Yourself and Others. That same friend reminds me of this all the time. When you are a caregiver, no matter what the age, you are always invested emotionally in your charge. There are bound to be conflicts and unpleasant interactions with other loved ones. My sister and I spoke extensively about this before my parents came, reminding ourselves that we were going to fight, disagree, and just as importantly, make up and move on. This is crucial to everyone’s mental well-being.
- Laugh. I cannot stress this enough. Dozens of studies have demonstrated how laughter releases endorphins, relaxes our muscles, releases stress, boosts immunity and contributes to our mental health. Make time to stop, just sit and chat with your kids, your elderly parent, your spouse. Hang out, remember the fun times, and chuckle.