Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a 45-year-old woman with baruch Hashem a beautiful family. I have a married daughter, a grandchild, six children still at home, my husband, my parents and my in-laws. My life is full. And that is the problem. You see, I also have a demanding career.
Dr. Respler, I feel like I am being cut in twenty or more pieces and no matter where I put my time, someone is being short-changed.
Do you have any suggestions on how I can best navigate my life?
Someone in the Sandwich Generation
Dear Someone in the Sandwich Generation,
Wow! It does sound like you are being pulled in many directions. Who should you care for first and how can you possibly split yourself into so many pieces? This can be very stressful.
First, it is important that you make sure to take care of yourself. You may be laughing at this “preposterous idea,” but you will fall apart if you do not carve out some time for self-care. That can be in the form of an exercise class, monthly massage, simply eating healthy, sleeping well, and/or taking time to meet up with friends or do things you enjoy. If you make some time for yourself, you won’t feel as if you’re falling apart when you give of your time and energy to others. As counterproductive as this sounds right now, the more time you take for yourself, the more you will have energy to give to others. You will be refueling your reserves, which means more for everyone.
Second, it’s integral that you have a support system. You are not clear as to what exactly your responsibilities are, so it’s a little hard for me to give you concrete ideas. However, you have to know your limits and get outside assistance when needed. This can be in the form of a housekeeper/nanny, or assistance with your parents or in-laws. You might have to have a conversation with your siblings, or your husband’s siblings, to discuss your limitations. In addition, seeing a therapist can be a very good way to help you release stress and learn some management skills.
Lastly, you have to know when you can agree to help out and when you have to say, “no.” Saying “no” does not mean that you are a bad person or that you aren’t giving. It just means that you know your limits and know when you are overdoing it. If you always say yes, you will eventually overdo it and then you won’t be able to help out at all.
Is your job flexible in any way? If yes, see what you can do. Having more flexibility with your work may give you the time you need to juggle all of these responsibilities. If this isn’t possible, then you must look into getting some paid help as well as delegating more jobs if possible.
Please remember that you are only one person. When we are on a plane, during safety procedures they always remind us that in case of an emergency we should put our own oxygen mask on first before tending to our children or others who need assistance.
I also tell the story of a mother who comes home very hungry with her young children who are very hungry as well. A neighbor pops in and sees the mother eating before feeding her children. The neighbor criticizes her saying, “How can you eat before feeding your children who are so hungry.” The mother answers, “I am building a mother.”
This mother knows that if she does not eat when she feeds her children she will be angry and scream. This mother understands that by nourishing herself, she is creating a calm mother who can effectively feed her children with love.
Unless we love and take care of ourselves, we cannot love and take care of other people. Please seek help if you cannot find ways to manage all your responsibilities and still love and care for yourself. Baruch Hashem you are blessed with a wonderful husband and a beautiful family. Hatzlacha!