The term “sandwich generation” was coined many years ago to refer to women who have responsibility for the care of their parents or an elderly relative while they are trying to raise their own children. It’s an apt analogy. When fewer women worked, the task of caring for older family members almost always fell to the daughter, frequently to the one who lived the closest. Today, most women hold jobs and they live further from their relatives, making this situation even more complex and difficult.
In addition, many women find themselves trying to juggle multiple responsibilities and commitments in situations that don’t involve an elderly relative. This can include dealing with step-children or in-laws, or a sibling who is ill, or a close friend who is down on her luck. These situations can all lead to feelings of stress, perhaps even to resentment.
Self-preservation and balance become important components in sandwich situations. Finding some time for yourself, and learning to say “no” without guilt are two important steps. At first it may seem positive to be needed, but even being needed can wear thin. If you begin to think someone is taking advantage of you, you are probably right. It may be time to set some limits to what you can do or contribute.
One cue that the situation is getting out of control is if you begin to feel indispensable, to feel that only you can do something or do it right. Feeling indispensable is one of the first signs of burnout.
If you find that your caring for one relative or friend is starting to get in the way of your job or other close relationships, you will need to address the situation head-on. If that doesn’t seem possible, speaking with a counselor skilled in the area may help you navigate the possible landmines.
Enlisting the assistance of others to offset some of the needed care can go a long way. Buying as much help as you can afford–to help with household chores, for example–can also reduce your overload and alleviate some stress.
It may seem selfish to think about yourself when your step-child has problems, your sister is ill, or your best friend is unemployed, but it is important to do so. Losing your job, getting into a negative financial situation, or becoming ill yourself will only make the sandwich situation worse.
Photo Credit: Mitchell Joyce