Several months ago, I had an epiphany. I looked at my 12 and 10 year old children and marveled at how suddenly self-sufficient they had become. They can feed, bathe and put themselves to bed. I can leave them alone for quick trips to the grocery store or to steal away for a quick dinner with my husband or friends. During this epiphany, I experienced a sudden, euphoric feeling of freedom — the likes of which I haven’t felt in 12 years. 

Then, merely days later, the universe snickered and threw me a curveball. Of my three parents (as a child of divorce, I received a “bonus” parent, in the form of a stepmother, later in life), all suddenly began experiencing serious health challenges — within weeks of one another. Rather abruptly, my desk calendar became filled with scribbles of my kids’ golf lessons and band concerts, coupled with my parents’ doctor appointments and procedures. I instantly felt the squeeze of being thrust into the “Sandwich Generation.”

The “Sandwich Generation,” refers to individuals who are “sandwiched” between caring for aging parents while raising their own children. As a newly-sandwiched hunk of lunchmeat in a complicated, juicy sandwich, I’m desperate to seek balance in my new role. I find myself constantly triaging who needs me the most, sometimes forgetting that I have some basic needs that need met, as well. In an effort to find balance in my new situation, I’ve come across some helpful tips to share for others navigating this “Sandwich Generation”:

Set realistic goals as a caretaker and say “no” when appropriate: It’s OK to say no sometimes. Delegate when you can’t and be present when you can be there. 

Stay connected. Don’t isolate yourself. When I get a day to myself, I’m tempted to shut myself in my room and be alone, but I’m learning that what I really need is to surround myself with friends and family who lift me up and take my mind off of my worries. 

Keep your own health in check: It’s important to keep yourself healthy, or else you’re of no use to anyone. Eat healthy foods and continue to make time for exercise. Don’t let your own preventative maintenance lapse during this time. 

Sadly, my stepmother lost her battle with cancer in June, and now my focus turns to comforting my children, who lost their beloved “Granny,” while also comforting my newly widowed father, who is facing his own health crisis. If we’re being honest, most days, it feels like I’m constantly putting out fires. 

I realize how immensely fortunate I am to have healthy children, a supportive spouse, and parents who are still living, but this new phase of life somehow took me by surprise. Despite all of my planning, I forgot to account for my own parents’ emerging health needs; how much of a role I would play in that; or how quickly this time would come. I took for granted that my parents would always be healthy and independent, but I am steeling myself for this new phase of life and praying that I can do right by everybody — including me.

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