Sandwich generation – so much anxiety dealing with everyone except me

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  JayJay 2 months ago.

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    Hi –

    I’m 50 and a mom to 2 teenagers, a wife to a loving husband and an only child daughter to a difficult, elderly mother who lives with us.  I used to be a professional but I left my job 10 years ago (happily) to raise my children and be with my mom who had just lost her husband (my dad).  I love my whole family and they love me, but each passing year and day even….I become more involved in their lives such that their lives ARE my life and nothing else is, and to be honest I don’t want any other way right now. I know one day my mom will be gone and also my children will be on their own and I’ll have plenty of time by myself and with my husband.

    So even though I said I’m happy with things as they are, I have become debilitated by anxiety in making sure everything “stays ok.”  I am juggling a lot and when things don’t go perfectly, I become “fractured” and can’t focus on anyone or anything rationally.  My mom’s health has declined and my daughters first love relationship just ended and I sit here pouring over the internet looking for advice with an untidy house and days of laundry to do as I try to”fix” everything and make it fit into my idea of the “perfect” life again.

    I am currently very fixated on my daughters breakup with her boyfriend as that was the thing that was “perfect” for nearly 2 years and I saw happiness in them and lived it through them.  With that part of MY stability gone, I’m a wreck (I know this sounds terribly selfish but trust me when I say I am completely there for her….its just my purpose of writing THIS post is for MY healing).  She is also a wreck because although they were fighting a lot and the breakup was “mutual” it never really is mutual and she was hoping the relationship would have survived their last argument.  In fact part of MY problem is that I don’t really think either of them want this breakup and it was just a matter of unfortunate circumstances….but now with social media as it is – the breakup is “official” and they are both succumbing to peer pressure to “be free.” I want to intervene and FIX this – for my daughter, for them as a couple and for me but I know I can’t intervene like that, so I sit here broken.

    There are other issues involving my husbands work environment, my other child’s friends and my mothers health that all contribute to me wanting to just sit here 24/7 and cry while trying to FIX everything but I know I can’t. Meanwhile, I don’t have a way to escape this feeling.  I know what I need to do – I read everything I can and talk to people I trust and they all give me the same advice….but I just don’t act on it.  I feel crazy.  It’s like waking up everyday saying you’re going on a diet but never do….then one day something clicks and you do it but there was no way, no matter what anyone said before, that would make you do it otherwise.

    I listen to all the advice about finding “me time”, a hobby, seeking counseling – all of which I KNOW is sound advice, but I can’t make the magic click happen….it just won’t. I want my daughter’s relationship fixed and “my idea” of that perfect life restored (I know that sounds awful, selfish and unrealistic….but I’m just being honest here).

    I’m writing to see if anyone can offer something else for me to hear…who knows what the magic word will be to make me happy again.

    Thanks for listening.



    Hi Joan,

    1. I highly recommend FlyLady dot net! The house will be in order and you will have some semblance of a routine.

    2. Why is your daughter and other teenager not doing their own laundry and helping around the house a little? Even your difficult mother should do her own laundry if only folding.

    3. Teenage breakups are GOOD! They show what you DO want and what you DON’T want in relationships! Think of it as a rite of passage. Dare I say even a RIGHT of passage! Do you want them to break up NOW, or when they go to college/move?

    4. Scrape out some alone time for YOU to reset and renew. Walks/runs at 5 in the morning (6? 7?) are awesome.

    5. In ten years your children will be gone. In twenty years your mother will be gone. Enjoy the craziness!





    Dear Joan:

    As I understand it, you are asking for “the magic word” that will free you from being stuck in your anxiety filled efforts to, primarily, fix your daughter’s relationship so to restore a “perfect life” that you never had.

    I can try to offer you a sentence with a question mark at its end, read it and tell me how it feels before you analyze what I wrote and before the guilt feelings set in:

    – how do you feel when you think of your mother no longer living with you and no longer being in your life?





    It sounds like your self worth, your happiness, and the meaning of your life depends on other people’s happiness and taking care of them.

    Here is a list of signs of a codependent relationship:

    1. Does your sense of purpose involve making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs?
    2. Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?
    3. You’re in a caretaking and (or) rescuing relationship with a person who uses you to avoid age-appropriate responsibilities, or the hard work of personal change.
    4. Do you constantly worry about others’ opinions of you?
    5. Your efforts to fix a troubled, addicted or under-functioning person have fostered dependence on you, rather than on their life progress.
    6. Do you use those efforts to avoid responsibility, avoid their life progress and personal change?
    7. Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of a specific person?

    Does that resonate?

    Check out codependency resources like Co-Dependence Anonymous (CoDA), Codependency for Dummies book or other many, many books on the subject, or a therapist.




    Hi Joan,

    Believe it or not, your feelings and situation are not at all uncommon at this juncture in life.

    You are in that place of taking care of those around you, and often, it is the care of growing child(ren) along with care taking a partner or a parent that begins the process of burn out down the road.  The responsibility for others who are dependent on you becomes a way of life. Before you know it, the separation of boundary lines become blurred.

    What needs to happen along the way with children is the growth of their own independence. Even the mistakes they make or disappointments they experience is part of their learning process . We must allow this to happen as we support and advise should they ask( especially as they become older) and if in danger become more involved in proactive ways. But ultimately as young adults, we need to let them be ok with a fall or failure and find solutions as a part of their experience to navigate reality. There is a difference between supportive or nurturing reminders of their self worth vs being responsible for ‘fixing’ their situation and comfort. Is there a perfect even in the best situation? What does that mean anyway?

    You sound like a loving, responsible person who cares deeply for her family, but it may have crossed the line to trying ‘fix’ problems that are not yours to take care of .  You are not selfish and I’m guessing you say these things to yourself when you feel guilty but need relief  from feeling so responsible for your family, not to mention the onus of your mothers needs in aging/illness.  Wanting to not have to worry about others you love and trying to figure out ways you can fix their life as if it is your responsibility, even though they are becoming  young adults or caring for your mother without support, is the unrealistic part.  This is actually a signal that you are burnt out from the last years of care taking. You are not alone in this phenomena at all.

    There is no magic word or way to get started. Realizing that you are not selfish when you start the process of self care is imporant. That this is a necessity when you are caring for those you love. In fact, you are compromising your own health and will not be able to care for anyone in any capacity if you don’t self care. As a 60 plus woman who has fallen into this sort of burn out not too many years ago, I can share with you some tools to hopefully help you to a different way of coping. One that begin to clear the air of muddled and overwhelmed thinking that you are responsible for the happiness of those around you . This has nothing to do with loving support in their process of learning how to create their own happiness, boundaries and responsibilities.

    Finding support is the best first step. Admitting that you are in this place of exhaustion and what sounds like depression is a good thing. Tiny Buddha is a wonderful site for inspiration and thought provoking ideas, one of my favorite and I tell my young adult child , nieces and young friends to get onto this wonderful site. But there are other sites online to search for your specific needs that could bring you to a group support of woman and men in similar situations with resources that may not be noted here. There are also legitimate psychologists, support groups through these legitimate sites that are open to counseling by email or phone for your specific situation, care ideas for your mother, as well as in person counseling options. There may be support groups in your area to check out, there are so many of us in the care taking situation. Look through hospital, church, temple etc(many secular groups meet) and neighborhood community support groups (ie parents taking care of of parents ). Even in elderly support, communities have resources for those in care taking situation for both you and your mother. Great opportunity to meet others and often make new friends. You would be surprised how much information is close by.

    I can not stress enough the importance of time for yourself on a schedule.  I have worked and lived as an artist both professionally and as a passion.  I was in the middle of similar feelings you are describing,trying to fix every thing so I could catch my breath.  The idea of doing any art was not intriguing, did not interest me, I was overwhelmed. That was a red flag. After the advice of a friend (who had taken care of a family member while raising children) I decided to just make myself go to these studio groups I had been involved in years before, even if I did not want to go. I had to talk myself through the entire get ready and just go. I am a shy person so this first step is never easy. I did not have expectations of feeling anything good. But some part of me knew I needed to get out of my own way, as you are doing now.

    One step at a time and over the years, my world opened from one studio group  a week to as many as I can fit in per week, which opens to art shows and programs from those groups. Feeling balanced and finding my goals enhance the care taking I need to extend in my personal  home situation. A pinpoint of light becomes a lifestyle of opportunity on every level. It’s not overnight, and takes a few times to find your situation. But look for kindness, openness and productive learning where experts and newbies are comfortable, regardless of what you choose for yourself.

    I have friends that have joined gardening, hiking, bird watching and library reading groups. Friends who join museums, yoga, meditation and other like minded classes /programs as well as running and other activities. There is something for everyone out there. You have control over how much time and how you want it to grow. It becomes another dimension in your life. It brings into your conversations that we are all finding ways to cope with caring for others without exhausting our own limited resources, or that we have lost someone we loved along the way and/or need these resources  for connection. Every age needs this support in some capacity. Everyone needs to keep a balance and boundary line. And there is no perfect, not in yours or anyone’s life. It is an ongoing journey through the challenges of change and growth. Sometimes that is wonderful and sometimes it’s very painful. You need to develop tools to deal with problems that come up and understand you often have no control over them. But we also need an arsenal of good that carries us through the rough times. I can not emphasize enough the need to get out and among other caring people who share an interest or similar situation. The smallest change, the smallest move to make yourself do this brings a new light into your life that motivates you toward more opportunities tailored to your needs. The support is necessary in this life as much as a healthy diet and exercise. It really is that simple. No one can do it for you but your unique self.  But the responsibility of putting this into action brings you joy. And we all know how that extends to others.

    The other thought to consider is the fact that you have young adults in your home watching you. Would you want them to care for others at the exclusion of themselves? You are still setting an example for them. What better lesson could you give them then the model of how to care  and  set boundaries for oneself while loving and care taking for others? And being your imperfect loving self along way is ok.  Isn’t that a good motivation  for self kindness to start right there.

    There were beautiful souls in my time that helped me when I was ‘there’. I hope these same ideas help you in some way and that you will be able to find your peace. You sound like a lovely woman.

    Best of luck to you!






    I listen to all the advice about finding “me time”, a hobby, seeking counseling – all of which I KNOW is sound advice, but I can’t make the magic click happen….it just won’t. I want my daughter’s relationship fixed and “my idea” of that perfect life restored (I know that sounds awful, selfish and unrealistic….but I’m just being honest here).

    I’m writing to see if anyone can offer something else for me to hear…who knows what the magic word will be to make me happy again.

    Dear Joan,

    I know it’s very hard. The advice above is all very good. But you find yourself not able to take that advice, because you are so focused (‘fixated ‘ is the therm you use) on fixing things for the other people in your life. Perhaps the story of my experience with this kind of situation might help.

    You hate to see your children suffering.

    I went through a similar situation some years ago with my son and his girlfriend. Although I wanted the same as you, (that things would return to normal, I guess) I realised it wasn’t something that I could fix, as it wasn’t about me. I had to accept that. I gave my son support through all the emotional upheaval, I was there for him. I let him spill out all the thoughts and the hurt that the breakup had caused. I listened. I resisted the urge to try and fix it for him. That’s all I could do.

    My son and his partner were having lots of arguments and fighting all the time. It sounds like a similar situation with your daughter. Ask yourself, do you really want her to continue with a relationship where they are fighting all the time?

    When our children are little, we fix all sorts of things for them. We bandage cut knees, we feed them when they are hungry, we cuddle them when they are upset.  It is part of a nurturing parent’s role. And although our children grow up, we still see them as little children we can fix.

    When they grow up, they have their own opinions, thoughts, wants and needs. You help when you can, you listen, you can be upset for them… but you can’t fix things for them that they need to fix for themselves.

    When it’s your daughter or your son, you can’t help but to be biased. What you want isn’t relevant here. It’s what your daughter wants, and what her SO want that’s important. You only need to support her decision and be there for her, whatever she decides to do.

    That’s really all you can do. You can’t really fix someone else’s relationship. It’s up to the people involved to fix it for themselves – even if that involves coming to a decision that it can’t be fixed. All you can do is be there for them.

    I wonder if the magic word(s) you seek are to give yourself permission to ‘Let Go’.

    I hope that you resolve this for both yourself and your family.

    Best wishes, Jay.

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