Five years ago, I wrote a blog post about the sandwich generation, highlighting the stress that people—mostly women—feel when supporting both parents and children. As a mother with aging parents, I felt the squeeze of competing responsibilities between my children’s needs and parental needs, both mine and my husband’s. Burnout is a very real concept that many adults experience, particularly those who are juggling an unpaid role as caregiver along with the other roles in their life.(1) I’m not telling you about that article to toot my own horn; rather, I’m speaking of it to explain to you how wrong I was with what I wrote. A few years after posting it, I experienced my “aha” moment; it happened when I was chatting with a friend. You see, although she didn’t have children, she was still experiencing a similar level of burnout. I realized that, in only discussing a generational sandwich, I was taking women with no children completely out of the conversation.
Instead of framing it as burnout based on competing caregiver roles, which implies being a child and having children of your own, I now view it as the sandwich of roles, or the multi-role rolls. In my mind, there are two distinct challenges with role rivalry: the adult you versus the child you, and the public you versus the private you.
Adult You Vs. Child You
Even if you don’t have children, you are a child yourself. Someone conceived you, gave birth to you, and raised you into the adult you are today. If one or both of your parents are still alive, you’re an adult child. You’re also an adult, with your own adult life, interests, and responsibilities. Sometimes—often, for many of us—the demands of these two roles butt heads.
Of course you love your parent(s) and you want to be there for them in their golden years. I’m not here to question your commitment to your loved ones. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that helping your aging parents can shuffle you back into childhood behavioural patterns. Think about it: you’re dealing with grownup issues—medical requirements, housing needs, etc—with the people who raised you to be the grown up you are today. However, their exposure to your behaviour happened during your formative years, not now, as a fully-formed adult. They may unwittingly treat you as they did your child self, which can trigger you to respond as your child self, thus slipping into old behavior. If you have children of your own, it can be like having a second set of teenagers, and neither set listens to you. Fun stuff.
Public You Vs. Private You
If your parents are no longer with us, that is, you’re no longer playing the adult child role, there are still competing roles within your life. The list can include: employee or employer, spouse, sibling, parent, friend. I know I’m just scratching the surface with this list of potential roles, and you may have a few (or many!) others that I haven’t listed. It’s still a multitude of roles that also require you to commit your precious time and energy to them.
Whether you live to work or work to live, the biggest struggle for your time will be work-life balance. This tension includes the competing demands of:
- home life being like a second job,
- caregiving for aging loved ones and/or children of your own, and
- not being able to completely unplug from work (email especially).(2)
Home versus work is a big one, overwhelming even the most resilient person when work commitments bleed into personal time. There’s only so much space on your plate, and trying to juggle these multiple roles may make you feel like a multigrain, multi-role roll being squished to its limits. Anyone who’s ever sent or received a work email outside of regular business hours can attest to the fact that technology can be both a burden and a boon to burnout.
“Home versus work is a big one, overwhelming even the most resilient person when work commitments bleed into personal time. There’s only so much space on your plate, and trying to juggle these multiple roles may make you feel like a multigrain, multi-role roll being squished to its limits. “ -Amanda Sterczyk MA, CPT
Telling people to “just unplug” is not realistic. You may need to stay connected for emergencies, in some cases online support groups offer respite and relief/encouragement, some people genuinely derive pleasure from being online (enjoy unwinding by catching up with friends and family in other cities), it’s a way to stay connected in our increasingly isolated existence (eg, many people move away from their childhood homes and families for work). Bottom line, different things work for different people.
I can’t tell you how to take care of your needs. What I can do is offer some possibilities, and share what has helped me. In essence, I learned to say no to others in order to say yes to myself:
- I put my business on the shelf.
- I took a part-time job.
- I regularly pull back on social media.
- At least once a week, I reassess my priorities.
- When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I step back and take a break.
- I go for walks.
If you’ve reached the end of your rope, the following list provides ideas to help you get back on track. (3)
- Talk. Tell people around you that you’re struggling.
- Outsource. Ask for help or hire someone to help.
- Move. Physical activity will boost your mood.
- Review and Reassess. Can you change jobs or change how you do your job?
- Eat. What you put in your mouth can impact both your energy and your mood.
Life is complicated, and that’s not going to change. You do have the power to change how you approach life, and how you respond to it’s complications.
Image source: Amanda Sterczyk
More about Amanda: Amanda Sterczyk is an international author and personal trainer based in Ottawa, Canada. In 2016, she founded The Move More Institute™, an initiative to promote healthy active living and teach individuals how to sneak exercise into their daily lives. Her slogan is “Move more, feel better.”
Check out her website at: https://www.amandasterczyk.com/?fbclid=IwAR3QZYcRpjV89I94Jlz4F2KeBvkte-rO69W90cYhZm-tG2XrbUkMdLusoUI
Originally published: 1/6/2020