Latest update: January 27th, 2013
Dear Dr. Yael:
I have, Baruch Hashem, a beautiful family with children and several grandchildren. I am fortunate to be close with all of them. I also work and take care of my parents, like many others in the “sandwich generation.” While I love my life, I am constantly exhausted and overworked.
As my husband and I love seeing our grandchildren, we often baby-sit for them whenever we are not working. On most Shabbasos we have at least one of our children over, and on Sundays we pick up our grandchildren or have our children bring them to us. Please understand that I enjoy my time with them; however, because I have a hard time saying no to anyone, I am feeling very overwhelmed. I want to help my hardworking children but am finding it difficult to set some boundaries.
My parents live nearby and I help them with errands, cooking, and doctors’ appointments. As you can imagine, I am greatly blessed; thus, I am not complaining.
Here’s my problem: I, as a people-pleaser, do not like to upset anyone. This is probably why I have difficulty telling my children that I need a break. However, I just know that I do not have the strength to continue with this schedule. What can I say to my children to help them understand how I feel, without insulting them? How do I balance helping them, yet have time to myself?
I am also very close to my in-law children and am afraid of jeopardizing my relationship with them. Since most of their families cannot help, for one reason or another, my children and their spouses all rely on me. I know that the in-law relationship is tricky, so I often go out of my way to make my in-law children feel comfortable and loved. I want them to feel at ease asking me for help, but I have come to realize that I cannot always say yes to their wishes. So how do I refuse their requests without hurting them?
An Overworked Grandmother
Dear Overworked Grandmother:
Thank you for your letter. I am sure that many others find themselves in a similar predicament. Baruch Hashem, it is very common today for people to have both parents and grandchildren. The sandwich generation has grown exponentially, and your dilemma is very real and widespread. How can one person divide herself into so many parts without falling apart? The answer: stop dividing yourself.
It is understandable that you want to be with your grandchildren and also want to help your parents. But it is important for you to have some time to relax and recoup. Because you already do so much for your children and grandchildren, it may be hard to cut down. Your children may feel a little disappointed or upset if you cut down, but you will need to explain to them that while you love them and wish that you could continue what you are doing, you are falling apart. Your tone of voice in expressing these feelings to your children will be crucial to a successful outcome.
Prepare beforehand what you want to say to your children – and don’t be defensive. Remember that there is nothing insulting about how you feel. You should say something like, “We love spending time with you and the grandchildren and we wish that we could continue to visit you as often as we do right now. I feel terrible, but I do not think that it is good for me to keep pushing myself like I have been. I would love to cut myself into little pieces so that I’d be able to see and help all of you all the time, but obviously that is not possible. I will try to help you all as much as possible, but if I cannot, please do not be upset or feel that I don’t want to be there for you. I absolutely want to help all of you, but I may have to take a rain check sometimes.”
Use your own manner of speech to make yourself more comfortable, but ensure that you keep the tone of the conversation warm, loving and calm.
Far be it for me to suggest how you should juggle all of your responsibilities, as you seem to have many important things on your plate. Perhaps you can devise a rotation schedule for yourself, deciding whom you see and help and when. Keep in mind that sibling rivalry does not end when children are grown, and that one or more of your children may become jealous if you and your husband spend more time with one of their siblings.
There is no easy solution to your predicament, but you need to put yourself first or you will not be of any help to anyone. Consider choosing between Shabbos and Sunday to help or visit with your children. Also, if you have siblings who can help with your parents, ask them to do so.
In sum, you must make time for self-relaxation. And if you say no to your children with love and warmth, it will be easier for them to swallow the new reality. Also, if you can afford to do so, offer to pay for a babysitter. This will serve a dual purpose: it will help your children feel taken care of, and you will no longer feel overworked.
Your children are fortunate to have such a special mother and mother-in-law. Hatzlachah.
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