Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier: Seven Strategies to Improve Your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19



Making What’s Hard a Bit Easier; Seven Strategies to Improve your Relationship with Your Parents During COVID-19

It’s mid-May, so those of us in Virginia are entering week 6 of stay-at-home orders.  Many of us have parents or close relatives that we cannot visit, either because they or we are isolating due to COVID-19.  First of all, give yourself credit for all the changes you have adjusted to.  It’s a lot, whether you are at home by yourself or with other family members, roommates, or friends. 

Your parents may be older seniors in various states of physical and mental health, of the company of others, or desire or ability to see people. Some of them may be extroverts who are having a very hard time coping with staying at home and social distancing.

Some of them may not be social distancing the way that they need to, or that you think they need to.   If you have already had the conversation with them about why this is important, you may need to come to terms with the fact that at this point, you cannot control their behavior, only your response to it.

 If you need to set limits on seeing them because their behavior puts you or another loved one at risk, it may help to state this, not as a judgment (e.g., “I’m not going to visit you because you are being stupid” is not heard as well as, “Mom, I understand that playing tennis is important to you and your friends. You understand those risks, and I may not like your decisions, but I need to accept them. Please likewise understand that I need to stay isolated due to my health concerns, so we can look at other ways we can connect that are not in person.”  If they accept this, obviously that’s easier than if they don’t.  But ultimately, we need to acknowledge our own needs and own these decisions.

If they don’t, or they get defensive, try not to get hooked into an argument that doesn’t change their behaviors.  Yes, this is hard.  But, do you want to spend this time in a tug-of-war with them, or do you want a different relationship with them?

  They may be in varying degrees of digital ability or access. They didn’t grow up during the digital age, after all. Come to think of it, neither did I! But here are some ways you can stay connected with them, regardless.

What is most important to many of our parents, is their legacy. What they feel they have accomplished or valued in life?

The larger portion of their lives is behind them, not ahead. This does not mean they don’t have meaningful days or plans; of course,  we all need to have that!  But it means that a big way to connect with them now is through their sense of legacy. So these are ways to do it.

First, ask yourself this:  When I look back on this time, during this crazy year when I couldn’t see my parents like I wanted, what do I want to know that I did? What do I think I’ll be happy I did (or didn’t do)?


  • Start with the Practical:  Work out a daily “check-in” plan with them, such as texting or calling you daily by 12noon, so you all know you are ok, conscious, and that if you don’t hear from each other, you’ll give a few hours grace period before calling another person they have regular contact with. If you still get no answer, the next step will be 911. Again, discuss this with them as good planning.
  • Work out a contingency plan for “if you (or they) get sick”, with a list of who to call, what medications to pack, and a list of medications, doses, and doctors that they can share with you.  In the event that they do become unwell, you will be prepared and will have this on hand.  
  • Now that that’s done, work on increasing the satisfaction quotient of your relationship.  For example recount an important memory you have with them. Something you experienced, learned from them, or was impressed by. Even the sarcastic and not-exactly tender folks will still find this meaningful. I’ll never forget the time I told my Dad, years ago, years before his Alzheimer’s took over, “I not only love you, Dad, but I like you”, to which he replied, “Uh…Well, that’s your problem!”
  • Ask them something about their personal history. (What’s significant about the place they grew up, a job they had, etc.? Ancestry or family stories that are important? A musical instrument or sport that they played?) Even if you were not particularly close, you can still recall something about a car, work day, object that you both remember.  It’s something you can do to connect with them.
  • Ask them about a particular time in their life that was meaningful or game-changing for them. A time they got out of a pinch, got a great job or travel opportunity, relationship, or even an object like a car or tool that they were able to do things with. You’d be surprised at how much information you’d get out of them.What was your favorite activity together, dish that they cooked, vacation you took? Let them know what it was, and ask what their favorites are or were.
  • Send them a care package. That is, if you think they will take care to wash their hands after they open it. It may contain favorite foods, books, a gardening kit, or something else that they value that they can do or enjoy.  Skip the mug or tote bag, or plant unless that’s something they will particularly love. One more thing to take care of or to add to clutter, may not be as appreciated.
  • Ask for advice. Yes, the thing that most parents give, unsolicited, in spades, our entire lives, right?   Whether it is advice on how do they make that particular soup, what can they suggest for painting or fixing your home?  Career advice – what was the best thing they did that helped them advance in their job, or keep it at the right time? And just let them give it. (Yes, there are times their advice may have driven you crazy. That’s the nature of things!)  If they can walk you through making a recipe, fixing an appliance, or some project while you are both on the phone or video calling, so much the better. This often drives their sense of purpose and gives you both an activity to do together. Which can also help to give them something to look forward to doing, in an area where there expertise or interest lies. 
  • Ask what would they like to be known for.  By you, people in their line of work or faith community, their grandkids? And if you can, get some (or all) of this on tape or write it down, even in bullet-points. 

Granted, you will still be concerned about your parents.  But these strategies will likely bring you a more satisfying relationship with your parents these days.  You may find that if you make these strategies your project, stress and conflict with your parents may go down quite a bit.  Instead of a power struggle, your relationship may have a renewed sense of purpose.  As hard as this may be, ask yourself, “where is the opportunity here?” 

Stay in touch with your supports in the meantime.  Take care of yourself, and see you next month!


Staying Connected in the Time of Coronavirus

Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses.

” Do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.”

Staying connected in the time of Coronavirus: It’s a change, but it’s not the end.


Do you think this concern about Coronavirus is a load of hooey?  Then you aren’t going to like what I am going to say, and I am probably not the therapist for you. 

Before I get into that, let me apologize for this post being a week late.  I was out of town, and then I got mildly sick, which delayed things. Thankfully, I’m better now.  All of this coincided with the unfolding news about Coronavirus, aka, COVID-19, which has been disruptive to most, lethal to some, and very annoying to virtually everyone.

Depending on where you live or where you (or people you know) have visited, you might be rethinking vacation plans, festival outings, public transportation. It’s calling into question how, exactly, we are willing and reasonably able to stay connected right now.

Mainly, right now, most people seem to be in a low-grade anxious, watchful waiting pattern. A lot of people feel, if not like rats that are trapped, at least like ones that being blocked and poked at, not sure which way to turn, or exactly what to do. We are told that the virus is mostly mild, but we are told to take important steps. We are told it is spreading and we can’t test everyone who wants or needs it, but containment is a goal. We should practice social distancing, but we aren’t sure for how long, or exactly how.   Do we want to cancel that ball game, this work meeting, or that outing? Is it worth the lost opportunity, lost pay/professional gain? How do we decide?

To date, those of us in Virginia have not received definitive, clear guidelines from community or national leaders on how to proceed. Without official quarantines, work and school closures or even widely available testing, next steps have been left largely up to individuals.  For better or worse, that’s the reality right now.

Are you in the defiance camp, determined not to change anything about your routine? Or are you panicking, afraid to go outside at all?

For most of us, we are somewhere in the middle. We don’t like what is happening, and we know we need to do something. I am speaking to the second and third group.

Those in the first group will not like what I have to say.  In fact, I would advise caution in being in physical proximity to those in the first group.  If such people live with you, I know it’s tough, but keep reading anyway.

For a lot of us who are caregivers or professional providers to elderly people and/or to people with underlying health issues, we know it’s not just about us. We are worried about them. Yes, for MOST people, the virus has cause mild to moderate symptoms.  But there are some vulnerable groups, mainly, adults over 60 and/or those with underlying health issues, for whom this virus may be life threatening.  

We may also have young children, so we are trying to balance their needs, too.

And let’s face it.  The other issues in our lives are still there. It’s not like those issues are going away.  So, what do we do?

I’m not a doctor, and the situation and knowledge about the virus is changing daily, so I’m going to list what my personal and professional takeaways are right now.

How you can proceed:

Respond mindfully

This is very different from reacting, which is purely emotional.  Responding is done with some level of reflection and intent.

Regarding COVID-19: Get the facts, not the opinions that are circling around online.  Stay in touch with health departments, medical doctors, and yours or your family’s specialists on their guidelines and recommendations.

The best take on this issue that I have found to date is this article (scientific American) on what to do, and why. If you read nothing else, though, read this article .*

Practice mindful hygiene, especially around vulnerable people.  Wearing a basic mask may not protect us much, but evidence suggests that it helps reduce the chances of infecting them.  They may need to stay quarantined for a time, and definitely, social distancing, avoiding crowds, busy places.  Washing hands thoroughly is important, especially just before you come in contact with them.  Have others in their environment do the same thing, especially other caregivers with close contact.  In fact, this is a good practice right now in any environment.

What if you have defiant types in your home?  I’m thinking stubborn teens, partners, or other housemates. Now may be the time to practice some logical consequences, such as saying, “If you want me to make that dinner or watch that show with you, please wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.” If they have a respected friend, online resource who can back up what you say to them, it may help to ask that person to rally and talk to them, or to read up on that resource. I repeat, you do what you can.  Or show them this article and let them know that I am telling them, please don’t be a jerk. Let Cleopatra be the only Queen of Denial, and do your part to help out.

Remember that, for the most part, this flu has not impacted children too badly, for the most part.  So we keep them practicing the good hygiene, such as washing hands, especially at home and near their vulnerable loved ones.  With positive reinforcement and encouragement, of course.

Stay in touch with your friends as you are reasonably able or willing. Your supports are still important, but for now, modify how you interact with them. Use telecommunications like Facetime, texting or phone, keep interactions one-one on or smaller groups, stand farther apart.  If your friends are in the first group that I mentioned above (that is, determined not to change anything, even hygiene habits), now is not the time to worry that you are offending them by social distancing.  Minimize or avoid contact with them in person if you can, calmly explaining your need to do so. Did I mention, wash your hands?

Change your greeting style:  Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses, especially at work or for the vulnerable folks in your life.

Take advantage of the outdoors.  Are you or your family going stir-crazy? Go outside. At least the weather in the DMV area is getting milder.  Whether you walk around the block, go up a driveway, or walk in a park, the green space will definitely help your mind reset.  If you work late, take a stroll around the block or stare at the sky before turning in for the night.

How I will proceed:

As you probably know by now, I specialize in working with anxiety, trauma, and caregiver issues in adults.  This means that I work with many caregivers and some immuno-suppressed people, so I will be regularly cleaning my office and washing my hands.  If you have special health concerns, I will wear a (basic paper) mask or sit at least six feet from you during sessions.  I do this out of care and concern for us both.  Mama don’t play, as they say.

 If I am feeling ill, I’ll let you know, and I will not come into the office.  It would be really, really helpful if you do the same thing. We can talk about other options during this time period. For people I have met at least once in person, we can look at teletherapy options. It may delay our work, but it will be better in the long run.

Keeping things in perspective:

Many things are being shaken up right now, but this too, shall pass. Not as quickly or as predictably as we want it to, but it will, hopefully with minimal impact.  

If you want to stay connected, contact me.  I am here to help you process whatever is on your mind and in your life.  And while gave advice to you here, I don’t give opinions or interpretations for the most part, in session. That work is about you, and that’s what a therapist is for. 

So do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.

*More resources:  

Fairfax County Health Department

World Health Organization

Center for Disease Control

Sawbone, a podcast about health issues.

Talking to kids about Coronavirus







Wouldn’t therapy be worth it?




If therapy could…

-help you feel less anxious, more calm

-add a supportive, non-judgmental person to your life

-help you get help with a trying life situation

-and, most importantly, give you tools for you to make some positive changes in your life

So that…

Instead of walking around feeling overwhelmed, alone, rudderless, you can feel calmer, supported, and focused on the here and now…

Wouldn’t it be worth it?


I’ve never heard anyone say they regretted doing therapy.

So you’ve been thinking about a particular issue, person, or big life change that may be on the horizon.  It’s weighing on you, occupying your mind, making you question yourself and your decisions.  You are thinking, you could use some help, maybe in the way of therapy, but you’re not sure therapy is the way to go.  Here are some reasons people say they are reluctant:

“I can’t afford therapy.”

Is that what you are thinking?  Most of us have spent money, time, and energy this Holiday season, or at many points throughout the year.  Understandably, you are trying to be watchful of your budget.

If the Holidays were fun and meaningful for you, I’m truly glad. Even if they were, maybe old issues, difficult relationships, or memories resurfaced with one or more people.  Maybe you used tips from my November blog post to get through the holidays, or other techniques to help you get through the tense times.

Maybe a big transition just happened or is on the horizon.  Job change, concerns about a friend, partner or relative?  You are worried about it, and it would really help to talk about it, but you aren’t sure these are concerns you want to lay out with someone in your personal life.

Maybe you did talk to friends, and it helped to get their support.  That’s something! But you may still be confused and this issue is hanging over you. You really don’t have huge amounts of time or energy. So for now, you are just hanging on, going with the flow and seeing what happens.  That can work  — for a while.

But sometimes it is MORE costly to put therapy on the back burner.  Namely, in quality of life and in the frustrating things that never seem to change, so that you lose sleep, or feel irritable, less energetic to deal with what needs dealing with.  This is especially true of trauma and severe stress. We actually spend more energy trying to “push down” our strong feelings. Or, they come out in a way that is not helpful, like temper outbursts, body/headaches, chronic distraction.

If therapy could help you feel less anxious, add a supportive, non-judgmental person to your life, get some ideas for help, and, most importantly, give you tools for you to make some positive changes in your life, so that instead of walking around feeling overwhelmed, alone, having no idea how to proceed, you can feel more calm, mindful, supported, and focused on what you need these days…Wouldn’t it be worth it?

“I’m super busy.  Who has time?”

It’s true.  You, like so many people, have work, parents, kids, school, and any number of responsibilities. 

You may want to try a person close to your home or work (or other place that you frequent often).  I typically see clients once weekly, but may see someone more frequently than that for trauma sessions.  It’s best to find someone close to your comings and goings. I’m in the City of Fairfax, Virginia, not far from George Mason University.

Pick a date and time with your therapist and make it part of a weekly routine. This will actually make it easier to stick with it.  Look at this as part of your “healthcare” routine and as something necessary you are doing for yourself.  And by the way, you send a very good strong message to your loved ones when they see that you are making this time for something important to you and that you stay with it.

For those of you who travel a lot or have health issues that make traveling difficult, teletherapy might be the way to go.  I don’t offer that at this time, but it is out there.  I’d rather you get the help you need and be honest with you about where to get it.

If your schedule needs to change, by the way, discuss this with your therapist. Most of us know that can happen. We try to work with you on this.

“I’ve done therapy.   I already know what my problems are. There are some things I just can’t change, and they are in the past, so I really don’t want to talk about them.”

I am not offering a “magic wand” that will make all your problems go away.  (And if anyone is doing that, they are not being straightforward with you, especially if there is a complex or ongoing life situation like a chronic illness in a loved one, chronic workplace upheaval, and such.  These things happen and I get that they don’t magically disappear.)   But I DO offer methods that will help you deal with these problems in a way that is calm and proactive, instead of dealing with them being terrified and reactive.  And those things that happened and are in the past?  The trauma therapy I do works on changing the memory, so that it does not affect you the same way.  It works.

Imagine having a game plan or a shift in your attitude in dealing with a person in your life who has often caused you stress or worry. Imagine how that would change things.  Instead of feeling like a powerless, out-of-control person, you will begin to feel more centered, deserving of good treatment and respect. (Respect is not fear, by the way.  Many people are in therapy because important people in their lives have confused these concepts.)  And when we believe we are worthy, things often begin to change.

So as you start out into the New Year, bearing the colder temperatures and looking ahead, think about the issues you would like help with.  If you read through this article all the way to this point, odds are, you are seriously considering therapy.  You know what it’s like not to do it. Maybe it’s time to try something different.

When you feel ready, call.

So What Kind of Therapy Do You Do, Anyway?

 “So what Kind of therapy do you do, anyway?”

“So what kind of therapy do you do, anyway?”

Because I am a therapist, people come to me seeking guidance and support on issues that are troubling them.  I work mainly with individual adults coping with trauma, caregiver stress, and life transitions like changing jobs, grief, or job and career changes, or relationship stress, especially with unresolved family issues.    Then they ask me my opinion about what they should do about the issue at hand, and I tell them, “We will come to that, but know that I work a little differently than other therapists.  I don’t evaluate, I help people process whatever is on their mind, and come to a conclusion.”

That is completely true, and yet, it sounds really vague. Or maybe it sounds like I am a slacker who just wants to collect a fee and let you rant, while not really doing anything myself. (I promise you, that is NOT the case!) They scrunch up their foreheads and look at me like I just said I came from the planet Neptune.  They seem really doubtful, worried that talking to me will be a waste of time.  In some ways,  I don’t blame them. What good is a therapist if they don’t weigh in and give you their take on what is going on with you, right? But then, some of them are willing to try a session or two with me, and then they see how it works.

Most people are used to having a therapist interpret or evaluate what they are doing.  This does have its  

benefit, and if that is what you want, I respect that.  But I roll a bit differently these days.

Maybe you have already had therapy, and it helped.  It’s been months or years, though, and your stress is up, conflicts are happening in your life, old triggers are acting up, and you are considering therapy again.  But you aren’t sure if this is the right time, or if the therapist you choose will be the right fit.  You may especially feel this way about me right now, because on top of not knowing me apart from anyone else, I am describing something that sounds kind of unconventional.  You want something a bit more, well, familiar.

Or maybe, it’s the opposite.  You say to yourself,  “I’ve done my therapy!  I already KNOW what my issues are. I don’t need to learn anything else or get any more insights that I don’t already have.  I don’t want to hear yet another person lecture me about what to do to change or feel better.  I just need the problem to go away.”

Well, then, how about a therapist who works a bit differently than most? If you decide to work with me,  we will still work on the issues that are distressing to you, whether you deem them little or big.    And as you do this, you will likely begin to see and feel changes. The most incredible thing is, it’s not because of what I tell you, but because we are peeling away the layers of awareness that are already within you. This is Traumatic Incident Reduction and Life Stress Reduction, all part of Applied Metapsychology, which you can read more about here

Maybe this sounds “out there”. Had I not had a respected colleague tell me a while back about this method and train me in it, I would feel the same way.  This is a SAMHSA-approved method of working through trauma, anxiety, and most types of life stress, and it really helps you unload and get some peace, relief, and resolution.  I know this, because in my training, I had to be on the receiving end of it, and it improved my own distress around some issues.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was effective.

Even if you just do a few sessions, you will likely find it helpful. 

If you want to give it a try, and you are 18 and over, call me, and we can get started. 

Is this month too hectic?  I understand. I’ll be around in January, too.  In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter/blog.  And in the meantime, take care of yourself in the ways you know best.

“I love my Mom, but sometimes I feel like I’m the grown-up. – Being the Adult Child

I often hear things like this:

“I love my mom, but it’s hard for us both as the years go on. It’s hard, being the adult child of your parent.

“I want to help her, but it’s overwhelming. She tells me ‘I’m just fine, don’t worry’, but then she asks me to help with a million things, from trying to log into her bank account to helping her out of her chair to finding her that spice that nobody even sells anymore.  
She tried to call five times yesterday.  I was busy at work, so I when I finally could, I called back, alarmed that there was an emergency. It turns out, she just wanted to know if I was at work or not, because she needed help remembering where she put her canned veggies. it’s just hard. I have two teenagers, one with his own health issues, one who is active and needs me to be there for her.  
I feel like these issues are a floating satellite, and I have no idea when and how they are going to crash.  With a sudden illness, or a crisis with her house, or something else.   Then I feel guilty, because she did so much for me my whole life.  Even when I was mad at her, she was the adult.
“I never imagined that I’d be so responsible for so much. I’m not even sure where to start with how to talk to her, or how or when to set some limits. Sometimes she gets mad and goes on these tirades about how no one gets what is like to be getting older and ill. I feel like I have to be careful what I say, because I just don’t want to get into it. She’ll just get more upset and berate me more. And she was often critical of me while I was growing up, but she can’t hear it back, now. It’s like she’s a child herself, and I’m the mom. I hate that. Part of me wishes I could help her, but part of me wants to RUN AWAY.”
You are not alone if you are feeling this way.  It’s not uncommon with caregiver stress.  Often the stress of coping with parents’ needs can go hand-in-hand with parenting children, be they very young, teenagers, or young adults.  Now that you are a “full adult”, yes, life with your parents has its tender moments, but it can also be frustrating. You feel like you need to walk on eggshells, even as you want to explode.  Some days are harder than others.  But when mom (or Dad) starts to get wrapped up in her own anger, sadness, and frustration, you wish you had something you could do or say.

But there are steps you can take to help you grow compassion even as you both face challenges.  They actually start with one simple step.

Sign up for my blog newsletter, and I’ll tell you a secret that can help you communicate with your mom…

My Cup Runneth Over! Managing Life Stress in The Sandwich Generation

 Managing Life and Caregiver Stress in The Sandwich Generation

This month’s post is coming to you a wee bit late. Much has been happening, my routine got knocked off kilter, and as the title states, my cup started to run over.  This may happening with you, too, now that Spring is in full swing.  Life is full, but it is also hectic.

 Many of you, like me, may be in that stage of Life called “The Sandwich Generation”.  That is, you are raising kids and coping with issues regarding your aging parents. The kids are in their teen years or adult years, and they still rely on you for help and guidance with schooling, finances, medical issues, or just general day-to-day coping. At the same time, your parents are shifting into their senior years and their accompanying challenges. They may be experiencing increased physical challenges, like decreasing mobility, heart problems or cancer, or mild to severe cognitive decline. In  fact, 32 percent of persons over 85 have Alzheimer’s dementia alone. Even if they are mentally healthy, they may be going through physical changes.  “Did you see how long it took Dad to climb the stairs to his bedroom? And he lives alone and does it every day!” your brother might say to you.

So you worry about Mom or Dad or Aunt Susan. They tell you not to, that they are “fine, and you’re being a worry wart.” Or maybe they speak from the other extreme, talking constantly about their ailments, their fears, their feelings of abandonment and anger that “young people just don’t understand.”  (By the way, what I love about the seniors is that, no matter their personality, they are practically the only people who still think of middle aged adults like me as “kids”.) Either way, it’s a challenge. 
With your kids growing and the adults getting more fragile, it can feel as though the earth is shifting steadily beneath your feet. You are now an “adult” in the truest sense,  because when things happen, you feel deep down that the worry and fallout will be yours to handle.  On top of that, you are likely balancing your own finances, career, and/or the needs and concerns of a partner. Overload, much? 

Our family is what anchors and drives us, but at times, can drain us. Especially if there is a crisis going on. You do what you gotta do, true. But it’s still important to take care of yourself amidst the whirlwind.
Easier said than done, I know. But it is necessary. I often tell people what I learned in my training as a therapist, and has been proved to me time and again in my personal life: it’s like being on the airplane and they say, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting one on everyone else” (because if you are passed out, you can’t help anybody). Or like filling your own gas tank before you can drive anyone else around. If your tank is empty, that’s it.

IF your teen calls you to help because they had a car accident, plus your mother was admitted to the hospital for heart palpitations, and you dealt with this during your job hours, your cup runneth over.

A segway note:  These issues can be even more challenging to navigate if you yourself have challenges to your physical or neurological functioning, such asADHD (Attention deficit/ hyperactive disorder), which makes tasks like focusing, planning and organizing even more challenging.  In the book, Smart But Scattered, the authors point out that a person’s weakest executive functioning skill is like the weakest organ in a person’s body, such as lungs that are prone to asthma. When stress and demands pile on, BOOM! That is the first organ to get sick, so just as a person with asthma gets bronchitis, the ADHD adult loses track of time, forgets an important meeting, or loses their iphone.  In my case, my weakest executive functioning skill is organization. So when demands and stress start piling up with me, for instance, disorganization and clutter set in, and I have more trouble keeping track of my things. If you have often felt less “with it” than other people, and it seemed it is a lot of work for you to get organized, focus, prioritize, or follow through on tasks, you may want too consider getting tested for Adult Adhd. But do this when life stressors have calmed down a bit, so that the assessment can see how you do at baseline.  Treatment ranges from ADHD coaching to cognitive-behavioral therapy to medication, and it can be extremely helpful in helping you with these challenges.   

Even if you don’t have ADHD, life throws curve balls sometimes, especially when you in your “Sandwich Years”. But when those curve balls get more frequent or more demanding, we can start to feel burned out. We don’t know what to do first, or where to start. 

All this can come to a head when you are part of that Sandwich Generation, and needs seem to come from all sides.  You can feel overwhelmed or even desperate.  While sinking into despair is attractive,  it does not solve problems very well. 

So here’s what you do:

1. Recognize and accept your overwhelm.  Admit that “Your cup runneth over”, and you are on overload.

2. Get help: A therapist who has an interest in caregiver issues can help you sort out your emotions and challenges as well as help you develop coping strategies.  If you are overwhelmed, this can be a great place to start.
For your elderly parents or relatives: You may consider hiring a caregiver or home health aide. For the kids or young adults: Depending on what the main challenge is with them, a sitter (child care), tutor (academic struggles) or therapist (mood issues like sadness/depression, anxiety) or doctor (medical/biochemical concerns).

Yes, these services cost money, but this is money that helps your sanity and strength. A good place to go for help with eldercare issues can be the Human Resources Office at your job. They can often tap into your EAP (Employee Assistance Program). You’d be surprised at what they can help you find by way of help. Even if you don’t have an HR Office, check with your health insurance company about options such as care managers.
They can provide assistance for more complex medical issues with your child, teen or young adult. They can help you tap into the kind of help you might need. Your spouse, A trusted friend, neighbor or a relative that might be able to sit with you or family if you feel like you are needed in two places at once, and you need some coverage.

In accessing professional eldercare help, one of the best things my family did when my own father developed Alzheimer’s was to employ a Geriatric Care Manager. His care manager not only knew how to relate to him, but she knew the local services available such as Adult Day Care.   
Support groups can also be helpful. The Alzheimer’s Association offers support groups for caregivers, where you can get good information and support from others who understand what you are going through.

3.Slow down and break it down.
Sounds nuts, right? “How do I go take a break when Mom was just hospitalized and my kid is ill?” Let me put this another way. I don’t mean plan to go on two-week cruise with no help for Mom the second a crisis or emergency is over. I mean, slow down how you are able. Watch a funny show with tea. Sit with a friend. Get your bearings, and break these big things down into smaller manageable tasks, day by day, or hour by hour.
 4. Set limits. 
This is where a good therapist can help. Oftentimes we get so caught up in taking care of our loved ones’ issues that we lose sight of two things:
a.  The difference between a crisis and an emergency, and
b. The difference between a need and a want. 

A crisis means your relative is definitely having a hard time with something, whether it is their health, their dinner, or car trouble, and that problem is bigger than the help available to cope with it.  Mom is dropped the dinner, it is in a mess in her kitchen, and she calls you sobbing. She is mobile, she is fine, but very upset.  Of course this distresses, but she her life or well-being are not at risk at the moment.  It stinks for her to have to wait, but if something else more pressing is happening, she can, if needed.

Danger to life or health- and I mean, imminent danger, is an emergency.  Trouble breathing, chest pains, or a home on fire. These are emergencies. Someone is at risk of dying or being severely injured if the situation is not handled.  

If you feel you are being hauled into crisis scenarios a lot, this is a good indicator that more help is needed for you and/or your loved ones.  You may need more in-home help with Mom.  She will likely refuse, at first. As may your son, with getting a tutor even though he is failing classes.  But one of my favorite advice columnists, Carolyn Hax, said something to the effect of,  “You don’t get to drive someone nuts while you refuse help.”  Some crises may need to occur wherein you can’t be there, and then they may begin to shift their thinking.  Limits, by the way, are not the same thing as walking away or not caring. Limits mean clarifying what you will or won’t do. Limits are proactive, rather than reactive. 

If your are dealing with the second situation, true life-or-death emergencies, a lot, I’m glad you are reaching out for help. Heed the advice of medical, law enforcement or mental health professionals in that case. You may need a more intense level of help for your loved ones that you alone cannot be expected to provide.

  1.  Relentlessly forgive yourself.

(What a great phrase!  It isn’t mine, but it’s too good not to share.)   When things don’t get done, and stressors continue, chronic stress can set in.  you can begin to believe you are not doing things well enough.  That if you were more “put together”, all of this crap wouldn’t be happening to you.  Well, guess what? That is your brain wiring playing tricks on you with automatic negative thoughts.   You tell yourself this enough, and you will start to believe you are “a loser”.  But here are other truths that are being ignored, here:  Look at how much you HAVE done, and are still standing. And think of how much worse things would be without all that you have put in place.  Better yet, how much you are doing to advocate for your family.  And yes, you may have put in a service too late, missed an important phone call, etc. Observe that thought, and forgive yourself. Over and over.

6. Savor the moments.  

I’m not saying, ignore the hard stuff.  I’m saying, every once in a while, you’ll have moments that are funny or touching.  When my Dad was senile, he was able to hug me without a sarcastic joke attached, which was odd but kind of nice.  And we were able to watch Puppy Videos on YouTube together, and simply enjoy it. Of course I still missed the person he had been, and that disease made me angry for what it took from him and us all.  But the person he had been before would have had no patience for such cutesy stuff.  So we had some very sweet moments during his illness that I am grateful for.

The Sandwich Generation on Vacation

You can employ the above strategies even when doing positive, fun things with multiple family generations. I am learning through trial and error, what limits to set and what help to get for annual family vacations.

Recognize you feel overwhelmed: The last few family trips were fun overall, but I have felt exhausted or returned with back pain or a sprained shoulder.  This is because I took on way too many physical tasks than I realistically should have. I had had fun, as well, but I’d like to curb some of the physical strain. I’d like to return from trips with my body more intact.

Get help: I am so over the type of trip I did in my college years, like sleeping overnight in train stations with all my belongings on my back.  And now that I am in the Sandwich Generation Years, I am even tired of the “self-catering” part of self-catering rentals. I don’t want to be cooking so often, changing bed sheets or nagging others to do it. Sometimes it’s worth the quality of life to pay for extra services, like a travel agent to help coordinate flights and hotels.  Or getting a hotel with more amenities like regular cleaning services, transportation, room service/restaurants within walking distance, or an easy-to-access location, if it means a bit more rest and less stress.  Next time, I will definitely get this help. And to me, this is not selfish, or at least, if it is, it is good selfish.  We need to allow ourselves to do what helps us feel more rested, not more irritable, if it is within our means. 

On that note, we can, no, we SHOULD ask for help from our family members.  Ahead of the trip, discuss what tasks are expected from everyone, with the main goal being a fun, manageable time.  List the tasks, and ask, who chooses which ones?  Put it in writing, have everyone sign it, and if things are not done, refer back to the list for accountability.  But again, be realistic, and still book the kind of trip that will not make this too energy-consuming for you. 

Slow down.  Sometimes, the packed itinerary that jams in a million tours, trips and activities can be too much.  I want some days to be open and unplanned, and again, this helps me rest, so I have more mindful, positive energy for others. I now build in some time for this, and I opt out of some hikes, activities, and such. Even with very young children, you can opt to hang back with them at the hotel or a kid-friendly venue.

Set limits. While sitting at a pizza parlor on our vacation, we got to chatting about The Next Trip.  This was amusing to me, given that we were only halfway through the Current Trip, but hey, we get caught up sometimes.  Some family members thought that our next extended family trip should be to Hawaii.  I nixed that immediately.  With elderly relatives, I have decided that my limit is 4 hours of driving OR 3 hours of flying to get to our destination, maximum.  I feel that the fatigue of long drives/flights, plus the possibility of health complications with elderly relatives is not worth it.   

On that note, don’t be everybody’s personal chef, maid, cleaner, itinerary planner, ALL the time, because then you will ALSO be everyone’s Grump. You’re entitled to your share of moments of grumpiness, yes. Vacations in new places with new routines do add some stress.  But if that becomes your “style” of relating when on vacation, chances are, things need tweaking. Adding a “Sandwich Generation Takes a Break” day is important. The benefit if your kids are teens is that, they can step up and do a few of those things here and there.

Yes, some people will be disappointed, but sometimes we need that flexibility from others. Sometimes even the adults may have the fantasy or belief that they will be helpful or not cause problems.  I believe that they have good intentions, but still, we need to be realistic.  For example, your Dad believes he’ll be able to handle that hike up the mountain, but he can barely manage the stairs, so you may need to put your foot down (no pun intended) on the idea of the Island with the Big Mountain and find something more low-key that your teen can still enjoy.  And my awareness of Mom’s back issues meant that I said, “No way are we doing a 10-hour flight”.  Even a spouse who is usually supportive may not recognize the risk in such a long flight.  But I held my ground. And you know what?  They got it.  Sometimes they need to hear the “no” from us.  That’s our right to assume as the main “focal person (or people, if you are partnered)” that coordinates everyone’s experience.

Forgive yourself relentlessly. 

We had an issue with our house rental while on vacation. I hadn’t foreseen running out of garbage bags, so I did not clean up the way I would have.  Plus the owners had not left a checklist of what they expected or wanted.  This resulted in dissatisfaction on both sides. After all was said and done, our family took responsibility for what we had not done, but protocol indicated they should have left us a checklist.  The whole incident made me realize that house rental without help is simply too much for us to oversee on multi-generational vacations.  But rather than self-blame, I’m looking at it as a learning experience, and making changes in the future.

And remember, most of all to savor the moments.  This is something you can do on vacation that is much harder to do (but not impossible) when you are coping with the daily demands in Part 1 of this post.  I am aware as we get older that our time with the older relatives is limited.  Sometimes that helps me remember that snafus may occur, even with these steps.  I’m glad that we can do these family trips and are creating those memories.  I just want to stay somewhat sane in the process, and so the above strategies can really help. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.  With that in mind, may you get the support you need if  your cup runneth over.