How Did I Get Here?

…A view from the inside the “Sandwich Generation”

“I hope everything is ok.”

That’s what I think every single time I see Dad’s name on my phone. My mind races through the same series of questions that I never have answers to. Is Mom having one of those moments? Is he ok? When was the last time I saw them? Why has it been so long? Maybe he just wants to tell me that milk is on sale this week. Just maybe. But maybe he isn’t okay.

If only I could answer the call. But I can’t. Not this time. I’m in my daughter’s chorus recital, front row and if I don’t leave in the next ten minutes I will miss my son’s baseball game and I had to leave work early today to make all this happen. When I juggle, the ball always drops somewhere.

Something’s got to give. Apparently that something is me. But how much?

Does this scenario sound familiar? There are a hundred instances just like this one in my average 24/7. And it yields the same result: guilt with a side of sadness. It’s my own personal hamster wheel and the way off of it has eluded me now for over ten years, ever since my mother got her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and my Dad turned from doting husband into full-time caregiver all while I entered into motherhood three times over.

Nobody plans for this.

I am a poster child for the “sandwich generation” – caught between supporting my aging parents and my young children. I still don’t have it figured out – far from it. But for those who struggle with this same tug-of-war, there is an important first step in changing the dynamic that just might change your life. It changed mine.

Self-Care is the #1 Priority – No Exceptions

A lamp without oil can bear no light.

How can I expect to help others if I myself am depleted? It goes back to the airplane oxygen mask analogy – always help yourself before assisting others. The well will run dry and you will be left empty, unable to live the life you want. And if that doesn’t motivate you – then consider all the people that count on you who will be left searching for help in your absence and guess what – trying to figure out a way to help you.

But that’s easier said than done. It’s not a simple concept to get through to the self-sacrificing child/parent/spouse/worker (insert your favorite noun here). Often times, making space for self-care can prompt the guilt meter to rise, further triggering a greater need to give and give. So fundamentally you may agree with the concept of self-care and why it’s important, but how do you get there?

What Keeps You from Self-Care?

The Family Caregiver Alliance published an article detailing out the common barriers people encounter and identifying what is standing in your way.

  • Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first?
  • Is it frightening to think of your own needs? What is the fear about?
  • Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help?
  • Do you feel you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient’s affection? Do you do too much as a result?
  • Do you find yourself buying into common misconceptions like:

“If I don’t do it, no one will”

“I am responsible for my parent’s health”

“Our family has always taken care of each other”

“I made a promise that I would”

These thoughts and barriers can create habits that push us into trying to do the impossible or control what cannot be controlled. These habits give you a permanent place on the hamster wheel, along with feelings of failure and a tendency to ignore your own needs.

So, how’s that working out for you?

Ask yourself these questions, be honest about the answers.

Change Your Path

Getting started is the fun part. Imagine the possibilities. What did you do for fun or fulfillment before you became a caregiver to so many? Carve out time for those things. Need ideas? The world wide web is all too happy to oblige. Try one or try them all. Brainstorm ideas with your family about how you can feel better connected with your loved ones, without compromising every moment of your life. There are tools available in every shape and form tapping into the Internet of Things to make today’s barriers less so.

Above all, remember this. Post it somewhere, tattoo it on your arm, say it out loud every time you do something good for yourself and remember in doing so your light shines a little bit brighter. Commit to yourself the way you have committed to others.

Is Today Your Day?

I admitted from the beginning. I have not figured out the perfect solution. I still worry when the phone rings, that may never change. But I also know the fate of the world doesn’t rest on my every move and my self-care pays dividends not only to me, but to those I love.

So maybe today is your day to get off the wheel. Maybe you’re not ready. But for one final bit of motivation, consider the reason for all of this change in your life and what they might think about where you are.

What would your parents want for you if you asked them?

How do your kids want you to feel everyday?

How far away are you from this vision they all hold for you?

Today is your day.


By Mariryan Starr
Mariryan Starr is the Vice President of Client Services for Propel Marketing and volunteer with the Dementia Alliance of North Carolina.