If you give a bird a worm
Since it’s difficult to describe a sandwiched life, I thought I’d try an analogy. I often tell people that life is like a puzzle and you just have to figure out how all the pieces connect but reflecting on this now, this analogy is just way too simple. After all, when you are putting together a jigsaw puzzle you have the luxury of evaluating one piece at a time. What I feel, and probably many of you do, is the constant pulling of different important and competing priorities that frankly are never satiated. A better analogy for a mom in the sandwich generation is to think of a nest of hungry baby robins with mom flying back and forth to keep everyone well fed.
My nest of chirping birds includes:
· My husband
· My daughter
· My son
· My mother
· My health
· My full time career
· My online business
· My ‘A list’ girlfriends and family members
Imagine these eight hungry birds squeaking with mouths open wide depending on you to feed them even just a little morsel. Mama robin does her best to keep them all comfortable but she can really only feed one or two at a time so she has to make multiple hunting trips to take care of everyone and I’m sure she’s worn out in the process.
Tough decisions are for the birds
I was curious if I could get some practical tips from the mama robin on how she attains harmony (or maybe melody in her case) so I googled how baby robins get fed and found out that mama is running herself really ragged for a little over two weeks. So for her, it’s a serious sprint. What we sandwiched moms have going on is a marathon and we aren’t going to sustain the pace and mentally cope with the demands if we aren’t taking great care of ourselves by staying active, feeding our self-interests, finding support and following good nutrition guidelines.
Since we are barely keeping our nest of demanding baby robins alive, we have to tightly guard our time and attention. I’m sure mama robin wanted to go to the bird’s beauty contest, check out a new feeding spot with her hubs, lounge in the neighbor’s birdbath or absorb all the social interactions around her but like us, she has to tell herself that right now she has to focus on what matters most – her nest of baby birds. Her top priorities must come first!
In my day job, I’m a product manager and one of my favorite things to do is create a flowchart. I love to break down a business process and find ways to streamline and automate. I thought maybe a flowchart would help me figure out a decision tree on how to determine if I’m spending time in the right places or how to decide if a particular request is time well spent.
The result was an insanely detailed flowchart. I showed it to my husband who first looked at me like I had horns and made a comment that my brain works differently than most. I accepted this as a compliment. He said looking at the process this way was ‘depressing’. I got slightly emotional and explained that it is overwhelming to feel like you are constantly working to make everyone happy and falling short every day. We can’t meet everyone’s expectations, including our own. It’s impossible for one person to take this all on alone.
It was a fascinating exercise to go though. Thinking through this process made me evaluate all the decisions and considerations that go into what to do with my time. So many factors play a part in the ultimate decision for an incoming request for time including:
- Is this an emergency? Can the requester do this by their self?
- Am I the only person that can do this successfully?
- Do I have general interest in taking this on?
- Do I have the energy to take this on with what else is going on?
- Is it a long term commitment?
- Does the family calendar say I’m available?
- Is this a need or a want?
- Does it align with my personal and family goals?
- Will I need to sacrifice something important in exchange?
- Have my minimum self-induced requirements been met (e.g. have I seen mom at least once this week, have I worked out a minimum of 5 days, have I spent quality time with my family) ?
- Do I need to talk this over with Jason?
Stay the course
Once all the factors are laid out, hopefully the answer to the incoming request for your time becomes clear. You decision may lead you to a polite ‘no’ response such as ‘Thank you for inviting me to participate. This sounds really interesting but I’m in a crazy season of my life were I just can’t take on anything else right now.” No apology necessary, it just is what it is. On the flip side, if your decision is ‘yes’ then by all means plan for it and enjoy it – without looking back and without feelings of guilt! Trust your process and your instincts.
By the way, when I was doing the internet research on how baby robins get fed, I was reminded once again that I’m not a sole drifter in this season of life. Did you know robin fathers also help feed their babies!? Many hands, or beaks in this case, make light (or at least lighter) work. Thank goodness I have my best friend (aka my husband) right there to lend a helping hand, offer words of encouragement, lead a tough workout, or force me to relax.
While I honestly feel that I go to bed at night with hungry birds in my nest, I also can confidently look at myself in the mirror at night and feel good that I lived my day to the fullest and did the best that I can. I feel tired but also happy knowing that I’ve accomplished much in my waking hours. I remind myself that this pace isn’t forever and that I’m exactly where I need to be. I’m relieved that I have a required date with my pillow to rejuvenate and process the day. I quickly fall into slumber at night, optimistic that the days ahead will unfold new systems, teachers, and tips that will make the bird feeding process flow even more smoothly. I wake to the dawn and possibilities of a new day and feel hopeful that I can share what I’m living and learning with other sandwiched moms and make their days a little brighter.
- Evaluate where your time is being spent and ask yourself some of the questions listed above to determine if this is an activity that you still want to take on? Act on your new decision.
- Stop beating yourself up! Accept the tough situation you are in and live each day the best way you know how.
- Pay it forward. Tell someone who you see is stretched thin that you think they are doing a remarkable job and explain why you feel this way.
- As always, schedule time for your own personal health. Remember you won’t find the time, you have to make the time and I promise that this is where the energy comes from to get through the tough