How to nourish the sandwich that is you

The “Sandwich Generation” is a term that has now made it into the dictionary. It fits an increasing number of Boomer women whose reality includes being squeezed between the demands of growing children and the needs of aging parents.

A study by AARP and the National Alliance for Care-giving identified over 44 million Americans who are caring for ill adult family members, 60% of them women. According to the National Center on Health Statistics, about 80% of women in their 40’s have children for whom they are still somewhat responsible. Given these numbers, many of you may well be asking yourself, how can I balance caring for my parents, my children and myself? Here are some tips to help you sustain and nourish yourself:

1. Rejuvenate your spirits – soak in a hot tub, curl up with a good book, watch a beautiful sunrise. Solitude provides a chance to emotionally reconnect. Gail recognized, “I’m working on being kinder to myself. I am committed to daily prayer, to meditation, T’ai Chi, and relaxation. As I rebuild inner harmony, I am freer to do what is right for me.”

2. Don’t become isolated from your friends as you add caring for your parents to your already busy schedule. Maintain contact with them even if you are not able to spend as much physical time together. Karen agreed, “The blessings of my family, friends and faith have sustained me. Old friends have been wonderfully supportive. Since I no longer live near some of them, e-mail has been my lifeline.”

3. Let go of your negative feelings. Guilt is the most prevalent emotion of caregivers who worry that they’re not doing enough. Remind yourself that you’re doing what you can, given the realities of your life situation. Other times you may be feeling angry, resentful, or afraid of what’s to come. Acknowledge these universal reactions as you work through them.

4. Feel more positive by practicing relaxation or meditation. Think about three pleasant things that happened each day. Every night, before you go to bed, write affirmations about what is good in your life. Alice mused, “I try to stay positive and optimistic. Self-pity is terminal for me. I work on waking up happy I’m alive, going to bed satisfied with what I’ve done, living authentically. ‘She who laughs last, laughs best’ is my creed and ‘when you stumble make it part of the dance’ is my motto.”

5. Allow yourself the gift of laughter – rent a funny movie, find humor in daily life, or spend time with a friend who makes you happy. All of this helps you relieve stress, avoid burnout and brighten your outlook. Studies have shown that laughter triggers the release of endorphins and a good mood helps you develop creative solutions and make better decisions.

6. Ask for what you need from both professionals and family members. Don’t assume that you have to do everything yourself. Talk openly and honestly about how you feel and encourage other family members to pitch in and do their share. Develop firm boundaries to protect yourself as you handle family challenges.

7. Give yourself credit for all you do in finding balance in your life. Acknowledge and integrate the compliments that others give you. Let yourself enjoy the gratitude and love that your parents and children express for you. Thinking about what she had accomplished, Harriet felt, “This has really tested my strength. I still feel overwhelmed. But now I know I have the endurance to withstand just about anything.”

As you assume greater responsibility for your parents and maintain your role in your children’s lives, enjoy the time and activities that allow you to take care of yourself.

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