Over the past few months, I have met several women who are facing the daunting task of navigating through their parents failing health. Some are doing this while simultaneously trying to provide support and care for their own children who may not yet be on their own. As each of them shared their unique set of circumstances, one common factor came through in each of their situations, the emotional toll that comes with this role.
We’ve all heard the term “The Sandwich Generation”, referring to individuals balancing the roles of caring for children and aging parents. As our society lives longer, this is clearly becoming more prevalent, and if we’re honest, this responsibility is most often taken on by women. We are, by our nature, nurturing caregivers. We take on our children’s challenges as our own, and tend to do the same with our parents. It’s our job, we tell ourselves. It’s what makes us “good mothers” or “good daughters”.
Given the statistics that 80% of women outlive their spouses (US Census Bureau Statistics), there will likely be a time when the caregiver role shifts to the spouse, and we find ourselves taking care of a loved one once again. Reflecting on these facts, I think of the strength it takes to care for others; the physical and emotional strength it takes to put the care of others before the care of yourself, and whether it is even possible to sustain this for long periods of time.
My conclusion? It’s impossible. Further, it’s unnecessary. Unless we are able to maintain our own physical, emotional, and mental health, how can we truly help our loved ones to the best of our ability. More important than that? We deserve this care!
“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it”
Whether it’s selflessness, pride, or otherwise, I have seen so many women try to do it all themselves (MYSELF INCLUDED). I believe that sometimes this is to prove ourselves, or not to bother others, but the reality is that there is no reason for us to bear this weight on our own. I love this quote by Mark Amend, though it took me a long time to live it.
To be clear, this is not to say that we should “hand off” the caregiving. Rather, we should take a step back, look at all that we have on our plate, and then decide what are the things for which we can look for support.
What Can Help?
- Finding an hour or two per day for yourself to relax/recharge
- Delegate the things that are “Energy Draining” (i.e. housework, paying bills, balancing checkbook, etc)
- Pay attention to how YOU are feeling and listen to your body
- Lean on someone to be an empathetic ear. You aren’t burdening a true friend, they will feel the joy of giving back.
If you find yourself rationalizing why you shouldn’t put yourself first, I would recommend being a sympathetic ear to someone facing a situation like this, and see firsthand the gift you are giving them. The relief they will feel will be evident, and it just might convince you that you deserve the same. We all do.