Q: My life is challenging right now. My mom lives in another state and is having serious health issues. I have kids at home, and to top it off have a lot going on at work. What can I do to make sure all these areas get the attention they need? I feel like it’s all getting away from me. –Karla, 50, epidemiologist
A: Start by focusing on you and taking care of your own needs.
Seriously. Amid all of the demands, you need to maintain your own health and sanity. While we often feel like we should be superwomen, it is just not possible.
Recognizing that, be kind to yourself. What would you say to a friend, sister or cousin who was in this position? What steps you would suggest and what support would you offer?
I’m sure that you wouldn’t judge her or think that she is falling short. At the same time, I’m willing to bet that your fear of letting people down is a powerful part of your stress.
What happens if you give yourself permission to not do everything? If you figure out your priorities, you will be able to focus on the top needs and ease some of the stress in all aspects of life. This will require asking for help, which can be hard because we then show our vulnerability. Keep in mind that people genuinely do like to help others. If they are aware that you are struggling, they may already be wondering what they can do to help. Do them a favor and let them know some specifics.
On the family front, this might be as simple as getting carpool support to get your kids to activities. It might involve hiring help to clean your house (recognizing that cost may be a barrier). It may also require a family conversation about what is needed, what is feasible and brainstorming ways to work together.
At work, take a new look at options you may have. Maybe you have been turned down about having more flexibility in the past. However, times of need like a parental illness can change the equation and elicit a more accommodating response. Your best option for work is to figure out exactly what you would like and then present it to your boss as a win-win proposal.
This brings us to the most tender of all your issues: being away from your mom when she needs you.
It is a really hard thing. Let yourself feel the grief and pain, and figure out the best sources of comfort.
If she would like it, perhaps you could go stay a while, work remotely, and have flexibility to be involved in her care (this is an example of a workplace win-win). Or help arrange more support for her at home.
Spend the time you can with her to provide the emotional support that she undoubtedly needs as well.
Finally, coming back to you, eat healthy and delicious foods, spend time outside, and find things that make you laugh. Everyone around you will benefit when you invest in your well-being. Then be honest about what you can and can’t do, and let your community help.