Tips For Maintaining Work–Life Balance With Growing Children And Aging Parents

Balancing work with family and aging parents isn't easy. But, with a little planning, you can ensure a better quality of life, not only for yourself, but for your entire family.

By Ashwin Lobo

Tips For Maintaining Work–Life Balance With Growing Children And Aging Parents

Renuka heaves a sigh of relief as she drops off her 8-year-old daughter at school. At least, that’s one job done for the day. She rushes home to serve breakfast to her father and get ready to go to office. But, just as she’s about to step out, she realises that she hasn't given her father his morning medication. She rummages through the medicine cabinet but can’t find it. After a while, she realises that there are no more pills left. So, she dashes off to the nearby pharmacy to get a new strip of tablets, returns home to give one to her dad and, finally, sets off to work.

Days like this are a regular occurrence in Renuka's life, who is a member of the 'sandwich' generation.

What is the 'sandwich' generation?

The term 'sandwich' generation first began doing the rounds in the 1970s. However, it was popularised by the US journalist Carol Abaya. It refers to working adults who function as primary caregivers for one or both of their parents, while bringing up their own children as well.

What you should do

If you’re a member of the ‘sandwich generation’, like others, you would also wish that a day had more than 24 hours. There’s so much to do and not enough time to do it all. However, there are some things you can do to ensure your life goes on smoothly. Here are a few important ones:

1. Be organised: With time in a day being limited to only 24 hours, the habit of being organised can prove to be a blessing. Establish a daily routine to ensure that you get used to accomplishing different tasks at different times. This will provide you with a measure of stability. While planning your day in advance is always good, also keep in mind that things may not always go according to plan, and that’s alright.

2. Seek help: When there’s much to get done, it’s important for you and your spouse to work as a team. Until some years ago, managing the household and the children was considered the woman’s responsibility, while the man was tasked with earning money. But, with changing times, the roles were re-defined. Nowadays, for a family to function well as a unit, more often than not, the spouses are expected to contribute equally in all the areas. So, if you have too much on your plate, ask your spouse for help whenever you need it. Also, seek help from friends, relatives, neighbours, co-workers and even your boss. A Pew Research Center survey, "Raising Kids and Running a Household: How Working Parents Share the Load’, conducted in 2015 found that 56 per cent of all working parents had difficulties balancing work duties with family responsibilities. Having flexible working hours can really help you manage your schedule and contend with emergencies, so check with your employer if you can avail of a flexitime policy.

3. Take care of yourself: While you are taking care of others, it’s also important to take some time out for self-care. But what exactly does self-care mean? Although you may be spending time surfing the Internet or checking your social media, ask yourself, "Does doing all these make me feel better?" An activity involving self-care should be something you look forward to, and which also makes you feel better. Here are some activities you can do for self-care:

  • Pursue a hobby
  • Practise yoga
  • Go out to have a meal with a friend
  • Meditate
  • Read a good book
  • Play a sport
  • Have a relaxing bath
  • Go to watch a play or a comedy show
  • Take a nap

4. Recognise signs of stress: Even though you may have a great support system around you, being part of the sandwich generation isn't easy. Being constantly busy with things to do and places to be can leave even the strongest of us feeling stressed out.

But, do you know how it feels when you are stressed? Signs of stress manifest both emotionally and physically. So, if you’re under strain for a prolonged period, here are some signs you should watch out for:

  • Frequent irritability and frustration
  • Feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Being worried
  • Low energy levels
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues
  • Inability to quieten the mind

Raising children, caring for ageing parents and dealing with work pressure can make you feel overwhelmed. This is because, even as you’re getting one task done, your mind is already thinking of the next thing to do. A lot of sandwich parents turn to caffeine or cigarettes to bring down their stress, but this could make the situation worse.

How to manage stress: Consider doing activities that make you feel relaxed. You can plug in your ear phones and listen to some soothing music on the way to work. Alternatively, if you want to learn something on the way, you could even tune in to a podcast. Once you recognise the symptoms of stress, try to make some time for yourself to do things that you enjoy doing.

5. Get rid of the guilt: For many sandwich parents, guilt is a constant companion. While they’re at work, they’re worried about the things left undone at home. And, when they finally get back home, they fret that they haven’t done enough at work. They’re always doing too much and yet they feel like they haven't done enough. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t give in to feelings of guilt. Remember, you’re human and it’s possible to only do so much in a day. Give yourself credit for all you’ve achieved. So, make a habit of getting some exercise and watching your diet because a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. If you want to take care of others, it’s important to care for yourself first.

Being a part of the sandwich generation is difficult but catering for the needs of others can also be rewarding. Do the best you can for those around you but also take care of your own needs. Remember, with proper planning and support, even the toughest tasks can seem easy.

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