If you are a member of the sandwich generation, one of the millions of women raising kids, caring for an aging parent, and trying to earn a living, your life is a series of constant choices. Choices that often feel impossible to make. Stay late and finish your work or squeeze in a visit at the nursing home before dinner? Take your mother who no longer drives to visit her friend or watch your daughter’s soccer game? Schedule an appointment at the pediatrician, geriatrician, or primary care physician – when the appointment you really want is with an esthetician!
So, how do you choose between competing priorities? Here are 5 tips to help you choose how to spend your time when life is overloaded.
1. Set goals for each major role in your life. In order to choose between competing priorities, you need to know what your goals are for the different aspects of your life. What is your goal as a mother? Do you want to be at every one of your child’s events? Do you want to model a certain work ethic for your children? Do you want to teach them that care and compassion are the most important things? Your goal will determine how you spend your time and make tough choices. Set your goals as a daughter, an employee or business owner, as a partner, and as a person. Yes, you get to make time for you too! Use those goals to guide your decisions.
2. Ban the word “should.” Any thought you have that starts with “I should” is someone else’s value system playing in your head. And you cannot make good decisions if you choose based on what other people think you “should” do. They do not know all that factors into your decision. They do not know what your goals are and what you value you most in life. Nor do they need to.
3. Stop what-iffing. Sometimes we are unable to make decisions because we become paralyzed thinking about all of the possible consequences of our choices. What if something happens to my father while I am away on business? What if he falls, catches a cold, or is rushed to the hospital? What if my daughter scores a goal and I am not at the game? What if a potential new client calls on my vacation day? While every choice has a consequence, we do not control other people’s fate. It helps to remember that and relax a bit. Not every decision we make is life or death.
4. Avoid always and never thinking. Small, simple decisions became enormous and complex when we apply always and never thinking to them. Can’t decide if you should make the hour-long drive to check on your parents this weekend or stay home and get some rest? Check to see if your thought process involves these hyperbolic words. “I never get time to myself.” ”I am always the one to visit. No one else cares.” “I will never get the laundry done if I go.” Really? Is that true. Will you really never, ever get to rest or do laundry? No. It’s not. Strip your thoughts of those two words, and think again. Suddenly, your decisions don’t feel so huge.
5. Embrace your human-ness. A working daughter recently said that trying to fit her kids, her job, her spouse and her parents into her life every day had her feeling “less than.” That’s certainly a relatable point of view. But here’s another perspective: Not being able to be all things to everyone everyday is called being human. And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?