The term sandwich generation is mainly used to describe baby boomers who have to care for their aging parents as well as their college going kids. Though I may not be considered a baby boomer, I feel totally sandwiched between two things: aging parents and a young child on one hand and my demanding career on the other.
I was born to my parents in their early thirties and had my own child in my early thirties. That leaves me with a six year old and parents in their 70s; and, having worked for 15 years, I am right in the middle of a growing career that is getting more demanding by the day, just like the demands of caring for the family grow and change every day. I am a single child like many around me and that means I am on my own – no siblings to share the burden!
I can’t say I live in a joint family as my parents now live with me or rather, should I say we live with them, as they pretty much take care of everything at home and most importantly my young son. As a totally self-made person with strong self-hood, I want to do the best everywhere – at home, at work, for my son and for my parents. Providing physical support is the easiest thing to do. If required, I can have more home help or another car, but I want to be able to provide the emotional support that my family needs, and that is not always easy. No amount of physical comfort replaces the emotional warmth we all seek. It’s not only my parents’ health that worries me, it’s also the age when my own health demands attention- back aches, long days, poor eating habits, etc., – the guilt starts there.
I find myself constantly balancing. Sometimes it’s finishing a project with my son overnight and delivering a fantastic presentation at work the next day. Sometimes, I’m leaving for a business trip the same day my son comes down with a bad bout of cold and fever. The most draining times are when my child falls ill or my parents demand my complete attention. There is nothing I can do but just shut off from work. I am torn between home and work. There are so many times I question whether it is even worth it. In my mind there is a constant rant about what is important – work or family. I know that it’s the family that matters in the long term, but I just can’t let go of work, the self-fulfillment and of course the moolah that it brings in. We all want to have our cake and eat it too.
I feel squeezed many days, but then I realize it’s because of the guilt I carry. No one is questioning me – not my parents, not my spouse (though I must admit my son hates me going to work on some days and questions me!). When I feel miserable about how I relate to my situation – it’s my own doing; and in my desire to do the right thing for everyone at all times, I make myself feel guilty. Paradoxically, when I feel really burdened, taking a little time off for myself even when it feels impossible to do so gives me a burst of energy to take on the pressure. You cannot neglect yourself.
I also realize it’s ok to shut out work or the demands of family if required, as long as I clearly explain to those dependent on me exactly what they can expect. In the longer term it all works out.
Another thing I’ve learned is not to hesitate to ask for help when it is needed – whether it’s my mother-in-law, neighbours, friends or even colleagues at work. Ask for help with baby sitting, hospital visits or a decent meal. Everyone is willing to do their bit.
I remember hearing from Robert Swan, a man who has walked to both the poles and a great motivational speaker, that you cannot always walk with weight on one side and cripple yourself. Live life as waves – sometimes the work takes precedence and at other times family does. The balance is not created by keeping both at the same level, but by choosing to focus on one at a particular time, creating little waves.
And finally, don’t be ashamed of your emotions during tough times; there are instances when you just feel so squeezed that it’s impossible to keep your composure. It’s ok to vent with a spouse, a friend, a colleague or even an understanding boss!
A sandwich tastes better when all the ingredients are in the right proportion and is firmly set between two pieces of quality bread. Life is manageable when you deal with it in small doses which may change, but keep the long term view in perspective. Once you accept the reality of sandwich, the focus shifts to making it juicy and tasty and ensuring its always fresh!