Sometimes all you need is a time out — Tamara Mendelson
A friend of mine lost her father a few weeks ago. It was sudden but not unexpected. He wasn’t old by today’s standards. 83, the same age as my own father before his most recent birthday.
This man has had and was having a sort of chronic series of health issues often age-related. And he wasn’t a great sport about getting older but remarked to me once after I asked him how he was doing. He said he wasn’t great, but that it beat the alternative. I laughed as of course he was right. He died in his sleep quietly and in no pain. May his memory bring joy to all who knew him.
I had a feeling
The strange thing for me is that I reached out to this friend the week before because I had a feeling. Not a premonition exactly, just a feeling that something wasn’t right. It turned out she was the one who spent time in the ER that week because of a bad reaction to a treatment she was having.
There was a large group of people gathered at the funeral to support the family. I knew most of them. The scene was sad and touching and unfortunately all too familiar. This man died too soon but lead a very full life. He was married to his wife for over 60 years. Remarkable and lucky. His wife spoke so lovingly there were not too many dry eyes.
I don’t have many friends who have both parents alive anymore. And if their parents are still living they tend to need a lot of care and attention. And most of those same friends have children still in need of care and attention, sometimes a lot of care. It’s a difficult situation to be in need with both ends of the generational spectrum.
So I am told we are the sandwich generation.
Definition: The Sandwich Generation.
A generation of people, typically in their thirties, forties and fifties often responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents.
I have another friend whose mother decided not to join her and her family for the holidays this year. Her reason? She didn’t feel up to it. This woman had a great-grandchild she hadn’t seen but that wasn’t enough of a pull to make the trip.
My friend confided to me that she was very sad to not have her mother there but also a tiny bit relieved as caring for her mother was harder than having a new baby in the house. I nodded knowingly.
So what do we do?
It is not a case of cutting people off or out. I think we just need to be smarter about the energy that we do expend. I have a couple of suggestions…
1. I am proposing a generational personal time out.
A time to just be and reinvent our own lives. Grown-up children, although they may still need our support both emotionally and financially, we are not their priority. This is not a value judgement, it’s just a statement of fact. We need to make our own plans. Continue with our own lives. And if we need a break, get some coverage and take one.
2. All holidays and birthdays do not need to be big family events.
It’s a tremendous amount of work and those hosting don’t get to spend the time they want with all the people there as they are too busy with the preparations.
3. Tradition is tradition until it’s not.
When children get married or parents get divorced there are a lot more people added to the equation. Not everything can stay the same so a little flexibility might be just the thing. Just because Thanksgiving has always been your mother-in-laws holiday doesn’t mean it always has to be until the end of time. Every other year maybe?
4. Quality of time vs. quantity.
I didn’t make this up. Try to keep sight of the fact that even if we are duty bound or otherwise we need to make sure our aging parents are okay, comfortable, happy and well cared for but not at the expense of our own well-being. If we are continually at the whim of other people’s needs we are in a constant state of stress and cannot make the best decisions for anyone. Only expend the energy you have. Ask for help. Share the work.
5. A sense of humor is key.
When dealing with family older or younger or your siblings, cousins etc. it is important to see the humor in every situation possible. I have written before about family folklore. Try to let it go and deal with the task at hand. Making sure that the people you love are okay.
And when in doubt, give yourself a time out even if it’s just a short time. Be the focus of your own story even if they are clamoring at the door. Open it again when you are ready.
Be kind to yourself. Now over to you: Do you remember to take care of yourself too? Do have any other advice to add to my list?
Spread the word
Originally published at https://www.tamaramendelson.com on July 15, 2019.