I am not a parent. I want to be very clear in that before I write this post, as I believe in truth in advertising. I am not a parent, however, I know plenty of people who are and who are currently in the “sandwich generation.”
These are folks that are “sandwiched” between caring for their elderly parents while also taking care of their own children…and it can be the toughest time for many people.
Take Alice (not her real name). Alice is a single mom that works a full-time job and takes care of her two small children. While doing this, she is also caring for her aging mother.
About a year ago, Alice moved her mother in with her so she could better tend to her needs. Alice’s mother would benefit from in-home care, but Alice cannot afford it, and so she struggles to do the best she can to care for her mother’s needs.
Alice’s day starts with getting everyone out of bed and dressed (including her mother), preparing breakfasts and lunches, getting the kids off to school, and then running to her job in hopes that she will make it there on time.
After a long day at work, it’s running to pick up the kids from a neighbor’s house, cooking dinner, checking homework, getting everyone bathed and ready for bed (including her mother), cleaning up the kitchen, maybe throwing in a load of laundry, and then falling into bed, exhausted.
Why is this story on a blog about health? Think of this. Somewhere in the course of this jam-packed day, do you think Alice has the time or energy to exercise? What about time to just sit quietly and relax? What about a walk in the park that doesn’t include lugging two kids and keeping an eye on her mother?
When folks assume the role of caregiver, they are often so hyper-focused on that role that they do not take care of themselves. It is SO important to make sure that in caring for others, you are also caring for yourself. It’s why airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others; because it’s very difficult to care for someone else when you are rundown, stressed out, and unhealthy.
Okay, I know, this all sounds good on paper, but I know that for those of you in the thick of it, it sounds about as easy as climbing Mount Everest…in your underwear!
But, let me just offer a few suggestions for ways that you might practice some “self care” while caring for others. This works if you are taking care of children, spouses, parents, pets, and/or all of the above. And even if you find it impossible to implement, I hope it at least gets you to pause for a moment and think about your own health.
And please, if you know someone who is serving as a care giver, share this information with them!
1. Focus on feeding your family (and yourself) healthy, nutritious foods. Yes, I know, a run through the McDonald’s drive thru is sometimes the only dinner option you can think of when your brain is fried, but feeding everyone healthy food will help stave off colds, flu, and a host of other things that will keep everyone moving. Have a few quick “go to” dishes you can whip up quickly (even if it’s just a salad), invest in a crock pot and set it to cook while you’re at work, or, if you simply have to hit the drive thru, focus on getting the healthiest options you can.
2. Enlist the family to help you. Think of age-appropriate things that the kids can do to help. Maybe they can help set the table, put their own laundry away in their drawers, pick out their clothes for school, feed the dog, or dust around the house. In addition to giving you an extra set of hands to help out, it helps teach children some responsibility and gets them involved in the day-to-day of how the house operates.
3. Do some “swapping” with a friend. If you have a friend or neighbor in a similar situation, see if you can swap time. “Susie, I’ll come over one Saturday a month and take the family to the park for you so you can have a few uninterrupted hours for yourself, if you’ll do the same for me.” Use that time to do something that relaxes you and helps you de-stress. Go for a run, go to the gym, get a haircut or a manicure, or just stay at home, draw a bath, and read a couple of magazines. DO NOT use this time to do “chores” (unless cleaning the house is actually therapeutic for you)!
4. Stay organized! It is surely going to stress you out if you’re trying to usher the family out of the house in the morning and you can’t find your keys. Or you know the electric bill is due but can’t find it in the pile of mess by the door. Get into the habit of creating a space for everything and put things back in the same place each time you use them. Set up cubbies by the front door and label them for each member of the family. Have kids sit their back packs in their individual cubby, along with anything else they might need the next day for school. Have a parent that needs to take medicines every day? Store them in the same place (away from children and pets of course) and invest in one of those handy week-long pill sorters. Create a master list of important phone numbers for each member of the family and display it prominently so everyone has access to it. Not having to search for items in your house will free up valuable time, and save your sanity….Now where did I put those glasses???
5. Don’t be so hard on yourself! I can’t stress this one enough. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. Maybe your house doesn’t look like Martha Stewart lives there. Maybe you aren’t cooking gourmet meals for your family. Sometimes just keeping the kids alive and making sure that everyone has had SOMETHING to eat that day is all you can muster. That’s okay! You can only do the best that you can do, so don’t be so hard on yourself. In the end, your family will not remember whether the sheets matched the pillowcases or whether they had chicken fingers or chicken Kiev with baby red potatoes and a red wine reduction sauce for dinner; what they will remember is the laughter, love, and good times, so squeeze those last three things as often as you can.
I hope this helps, and until next time, Veg In, Don’t Veg Out!