Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: How do I stop feeling so … small? I feel like I’m failing some “grown-up” test, overwhelmed with the children, aging parents, sick husband, workplace stress (I think I work with a bully), too little money, too many wants, and just fatigue.
Did our parents feel like this and I just didn’t get the memo that adulthood is THIS hard? Am I solely responsible for making my life different? Where do I start that?
I have this thought that I am supposed to stop bailing water long enough to find the leak, but I also think I might take the ship down if I slow down enough for that. And then I talk to other moms, wives, friends, and they have time to do things like watch TV, which sounds really blissful right now.
Well, I guess I found the time to get here, so life isn’t that draconian. But I’m finding it hard to move right now.
Feeling Small and Trapped
Caregiving on three different fronts while also holding down a job is legitimately exhausting and scary.
Relief is out there: If your husband has a serious or chronic illness, then chances are there’s a support group and possibly respite care. There are also services available on the “aging parents” front, via eldercare.gov (http://1.usa.gov/1oiTbEX). If your kids are still young enough to need constant supervision, a mother’s helper in the form of a teenage neighbor who comes over an evening or two a week, for not much money, can be worth every scarce penny.
I know you’re looking for bigger answers here, and I have some: We’re all small, in the scheme of things. And: Yes, our parents felt like this sometimes, though what overwhelmed them and how they sought relief were probably different. History and the present never want for examples of human hardship.
And joy, pushing up through the cracks.
Sometimes all any of us can do is keep taking small steps, small steps, small steps, to get us through whatever [dirt] storm has parked itself over our heads, and accept relief where we can find it. We do get through, though — nothing you describe is permanent.
Next, some readerly moral support:
Small? You are a freaking warrior. You are caring for children AND aging parents? AND an ailing husband? I had the first two, still do, but kid is in school now and parents are in a retirement community and PRAISE THE SAINTS, life is better.
They call us the sandwich generation, but it’s more like being on The Rack, pulled in opposite directions. You are not small, no matter how you feel. You are a hero, saving lives and slaying dragons every d@#& day.
Try to remember that you take care of others best when you take care of yourself first, and carve out a little time to work on what YOU need. And other than that, know you’re not alone. A lot of us feel trapped in these tiny cells of responsibility, and all alone, when we’re really just part of the honeycomb, and if we can poke our heads up out of our cells once in a while, we'll find our neighbors to commiserate with and lean on.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.