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    This one is for the Gen X crowd. Well, it’s for anyone who has lived through their 40s and 50s; right now, that’s us Gen Xers. This is a crazy stage of life. I hadn’t thought about the challenges that would come with it until I was in it. When my kids were toddlers, I was chasing them constantly and just trying to keep them from jumping off the roof or into oncoming traffic, and I thought, “Ok this is probably going to be the hardest stage.” Then they were in elementary school and as I tried to balance my job, their homework, their sports schedules, and their activities, I thought,  “Ok this is going to be the toughest stage.” But once they were adolescents and we were buying cars, navigating high school, dealing with dating, and trying to raise responsible humans, I thought, “Nope. I was wrong. This is the hardest stage.” Now my kids are young adults, everything has completely changed again, and I’m quite sure THIS is the hardest stage.

                I have found myself having consistent conversations with my friends lately circling around the joys and difficulties of raising kids, the mountain of symptoms that accompany perimenopause (as well as the lack of adequate medical care in this area), relationship changes, friendship changes, mindset changes, career focus or second career focus, and the newfound phase of feeling like we are parenting our aging parents. Read that again; tired yet? I am.

                We, the current sandwich generation, are a generation of people who can very easily be raising young children or young adult children. We might be navigating life with a kindergartener or trying to get used to life without our college kid. Both come with equal emotion. We are simultaneously processing our kids growing up, our own aging issues (anyone else starting to make groany noises when you stand up?), and the struggles of our aging parents. If you are a woman, there’s a whole bag of physical symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, hair loss, weight gain, mood swings, changes in eyesight, migraines, irritability, sleeplessness, backaches, joint pain, new unwanted chin hair, and more. If you are a man, you might be experiencing depression, changes in eyesight, hair loss, joint pain, back pain, maybe your memory isn’t what it used to be, and maybe that manhood doesn’t function the way it used to (sorry, couldn’t help myself). We might be navigating divorce, what it means to start over, and dreading the dating scene; it’s not easy at this age searching for someone who is at least, not certifiable, and at best, compatible. 

                If we are in a long-term marriage, plenty of relationship changes have most likely occurred. A lot happens in 20 years, and personal growth and change can often leave a married couple feeling like they have grown apart. It’s no secret that marriage takes work, compromise, understanding, commitment, and did I mention work? Because marriage isn’t for the weak. I know I am not the same person I was 22 years ago when my husband and I said our I do’s; we have had our share of ups and downs. It’s so easy to forget to make your marriage a priority, especially right now. So many other things take a seat front and center, demanding all your unwavering attention.  By the way, your mom called and she can’t figure out why the fridge light isn’t coming on and needs you asap. And she needs you to take her to the pharmacy to get her rash cream.

                So. What do we do with all this? We need enough energy to be what our kids need, do what our jobs require, keep our marriages healthy (or time to get to know a new, possible partner), help our parents navigate their physical or cognitive changes and illnesses, and maintain our own sanity at the end of each day. The obvious answer is we must take care of ourselves first. I know, I know, this sounds and feels selfish. But. That stupid adage about putting your oxygen mask on yourself first is annoyingly true. If you aren’t healthy, and I mean mind, body, and spirit healthy, you are little help to anyone else. This means taking time for yourself, finding 15 minutes to squeeze in a mediation to clear your mind when you need to, maybe creating some new organization for yourself that makes you feel like your groove is smooth, and scheduling time with your friends to vent/laugh/relax. Stop yelling at me! I know it’s not easy and doesn’t even feel remotely feasible most days.  We just do the best we can to make ourselves a priority at some point. We won’t always be good at it. We do our best.

                There will be days when we feel like we are letting our people down. This is a great time for some honest communication. Pick a priority for the day, and then get comfy with saying no to everything else. You CANNOT DO IT ALL. Wait. I feel like you just rolled your eyes. Hear me again. YOU CANNOT DO IT ALL. No one can. So, communicate to your people that you are struggling. ASK FOR HELP. I know, I hate asking for help too; but, we get by with a little help from our friends, or our spouses, or even our kids. The PTA is asking for bake sale items and you hate to say no; but, if the request overwhelms you at the mere thought of turning the oven on, say no. You aren’t a terrible person, I don’t care what those motherfunders say (I can call PTA people motherfunders because I was one for the better part of a decade). It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about how difficult or not difficult your life is; everyone’s threshold is different, and frankly, it’s no one else’s business. Please do what is best for you, and not what’s best for Carley Motherfunder. Your kids don’t depend on a well-rested, grounded Carley. Again, we do the best we can, and we help when we can.

                Advocate for yourself and do so in every area of your life. Don’t be a martyr and make dinner and clean up dinner and do the dishes and do the laundry and help with homework and pack the lunches and put away the laundry and mop the floor and go to work and stop at the grocery on the way home to get your parents their prescriptions and groceries and go to their house and do their dishes and mop their floors and cook their dinners and take them to appointments and then make it to your kid’s soccer practice and make the team snack and say yes to teaching the 4th grade class Sunday morning at church and …… BREATHE. Stop. Repeat after me: “I need help today. I have a lot going on right now. This season in my life is demanding. And that freaking chin hair is driving me nuts and I need a minute to pluck that beast.” Turn to your people and delegate. You’re a team. Your spouse probably doesn’t even realize what you need because we love to think we can do it all ourselves. Say the words, communicate your feelings, and work together to figure out how to best defeat the day.

                I also find it helpful to commiserate with my fellow sandwich generation friends. There can be a lot of comedy in these years if you can find a way to find the funny. Laughing about some of these life changes is about the best way I know how to move through it. It’s all very stressy, but laughing when we can takes that anxiety down a notch. Give yourself the space to feel your feels. Maybe you are grieving your adult child’s littlehood as you watch them pack for college. Maybe you are grieving the loss of your previous relationship with your parent as you help them understand their new diagnosis of dementia. Maybe you are researching learning disabilities to figure out how to best help your kindergartner be successful in school. Don’t be afraid to take adequate time to sit in these emotions and process the transition; after all, these are huge life events. Talk with your closest pals about all of it; they are going straight through it too. Lean on each other for emotional support, or because your balance isn’t what it used to be (I run into walls; why do I run into walls now?).

                Hug your kids every chance you get, hug your parents every chance you get, and tell your spouse you appreciate what they do (ok you can hug them too). Wear those readers with confidence, be proud of the wisdom you’ve gained over the years, and show those chin hairs who’s boss. Cover your grays or let them grow and flow, just be comfy being you. When you put your head on your pillow at the end of your day, turn off your screens, take 15 minutes to breathe deep, reset your nervous system, and list all the things you are grateful for in your life. Gratitude really is an amazing practice for a healthy mind reset. We have struggles, but we also have bright spots inside every day. We are right smack in the messy middle of it all; and when we think deep about it, we wouldn’t have it any other way.