When did it happen, the role reversal? I can’t recall the exact moment when I became the parent and my parent became the child. It sort of just happened before I even knew it. But it happened none the less. I am an official Sandwich Generation, the pickle in the middle as you will. I have become the responsible adult who is between the aged parent and the young adult children responding to each in turn. And I am also a full time professional.
With so much on my plate how do I keep each of these worlds separate yet be available to give each my full attention when called upon? And I realize as I watch my co-worker struggle with his aging mother’s issues and college age children that I am not alone especially in this economy when more and more families are creating an extended family model. In our area, there are more home remodeling sales for the creation of “in law” suites than ever before. Ask any contractor. No, I am not alone. But how do I and we cope?
I struggle with this dilemma daily as I test new coping mechanisms. But these mechanisms are constantly changing as the challenges change daily. But I have found several techniques that have not only become my mainstay but help me find a personal sense of balance. The first of which, and I’m sorry if you’ve heard this over and over again but it is absolutely true – is exercise. No not the pump it up, jump that rope, do one hundred and seventy reps kind of exercise but simple walking. I walk.
I haven’t the time in the morning before work and because of the caretaking that I currently do with my mother I haven’t the time after work to walk so I walk at lunch. It’s not a two hour walk but a good, brisk jaunt around a very long block. It probably takes thirty minutes in total. It’s at a nice clipped pace with long strides and various inclines. It clears my mind as I think of nothing but what I am seeing at the time – traffic, broken sidewalk, flowering weeds, bumblebees, wild lilac (I found Lily of the Valley the other day, and yes I did step in to swipe a piece). If I pass another on the sidewalk I nod and say hello. I give myself thirty minutes. It’s what I give to me. I am outside (rain or shine), free, alive and filled with curiosity and wonder of the moment. I don’t allow myself to think work, family, or problems. I live in the moment. I never know what I’ll find on my daily walk even though it’s the same route. It changes, I change. And I move with it for I am in the moment.
In the moment is the other coping mechanism. I can’t control situations. I don’t like to divide myself for when I do things receive less of me than I could give. I don’t like giving less than I am capable so when I try to divide myself I feel as if I’ve short changed everyone. How I’ve learned to prevent this is to live in the moment completely and fully. I find that I am very grateful to have a job that is quite mental for it fills that space and I don’t allow other things to penetrate that space while I am there. If my attention is called to managing my mother’s medical attention via telephone, then I set aside time and only allow that issue to fill the space. I allow one issue at a time for I have learned that my multitasking (which I was once so very, very proud of) becomes the destruction of my sense of being as everything now requires 100% of my attention when it rears its needy head.
One issue at a time is my mantra now and while I’m there for as long or as little as it needs me it gets 100% of my attention. No more multitasking in the same space. It just can’t be done.
Now I’m not saying that in my job, if that job requires multitasking I don’t do that. I’m in that space and whatever is required of me in that space at that time be it multitasking, conflict resolution, recruiting, interviewing, workers compensation, safety, whatever is called upon in that “work” space gets 100% of me. Each part of me gets my full attention when I’m in that space. I just don’t allow the various spaces to overlap. Work is work, children are children and parents are parents…..never the twain shall meet!
So those right now are the only two coping mechanisms that I’ve discovered. I could use a few more but I haven’t any. I’d love to hear of tried and true solutions to what I consider a “generational” issue for many of us Boomers who are The Sandwich Generation.