More than 40 million of us support adult children while caring for aging relatives. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the stress of balancing the hard work of the sandwich generation, we have some ideas for you. Our tips for embracing self-care might be just what you need:
Give Yourself Credit
Caregiver. While so many women should wear this title proudly, few of us believe we deserve to. “Research shows the first hurdle preventing women from relieving stress is that we don’t even identify as caregivers,” says expert Lynda Shrager. We believe we’re daughters and mothers just doing our job. “But when you’re pulled between making your granddaughter’s recital and taking your mom to a doctor’s appointment, that’s caregiver stress, and naming it is vital.”
Let Go of Guilt
No matter how much you do, it often feels like it’s not enough, notes caregiver Amy Goyer, author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving ($13.46 Amazon). To let go of this guilt while taking care of her parents and sister, she jotted down all of her tasks. Seeing them in black and white not only helped her release unrealistic expectations, it expanded what “sandwich” meant to her. “I don’t have kids, but I felt pressure between family and work.” Your sandwich doesn’t have to fall within the traditional definition to be just as worthy of acknowledging.
It’s Okay to ‘Complain.’
“When my mother-in-law came to live with us, I felt ashamed that I didn’t want to take this on,” admits social worker and mother-of-three Felicia Wilson, Ph.D. “But when I told a friend, she just said, ‘I understand.’” Confiding isn’t complaining — it’s validating. “It helped me step back and see this really was the best choice, at least for the time being, which got me through the day-to-day.”
Create Your Space
Cordoning off a private space of your own, no matter how modest, will help you take the small breaks you need. “There’s no room in my home just for me, so I put a fold-out chair in our biggest closet and that’s where I go just to breathe or pray for a few minutes,” says Wilson. “Spiritually connecting with something greater than yourself reminds you that this isn’t solely on your shoulders.”
Widen Your Circle
“I used to think if I had to ask for help, it meant I was incompetent,” reveals Goyer. “But instead of beating yourself up, tell yourself, ‘I can accept help and still be in charge’ or ‘I’m going to ask for help, so I can manage this situation,’” she encourages. “Reaching out through your friends, church or local agency on aging can change everything.”
Taking care of loved ones is, of course, fraught with complex emotions. “One day, I was feeling like a failure and I thought, ‘What can I do to change this feeling?’” Goyer recalls. The answer was to shift her definition of success. “What am I 100% sure I’m great at? Being there. That’s success. Everything in life is a choice and you’re choosing to care—feel good about that, and remember the goal isn’t perfection, it’s resilience.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.