These strategies can help bring relief to dental professionals who are “sandwiched” by life’s rigors.
FAMILY NEEDS had me pinched. Every day I struggled to care for my mother, my two kids and my household. My husband placed himself on autopilot; my needs sank to the bottom of the pit. Like many fast-moving professionals, I never envisioned my career coming to a halt during my prime years. Then I heard the awful words — “your mom has ALS” — and my world stopped spinning.
A woman named Carol Abaya coined the term “sandwich generation” — those squeezed between elderly parents and their own kids — years ago when she unexpectedly became the primary caregiver for her aging mother and father. To help others manage this challenge, she created workshops and published articles to heighten awareness of elder care.
I wasn’t aware of Abaya’s work when I was going through my own struggle; I simply forged through the scheduling conflicts, the agony of parental role reversal and the endless doctor visits. From a business standpoint, there was only one thing to do: put everything in maintenance mode. These were my strategies.
1. LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD IMMEDIATELY. Don’t think you can continue at the same pace as if nothing has changed. Everything changes when a parent gets sick.
Dental-practice owners simply need to take more time away: End earlier or go in later, and be sure you have at least one day off a week.
2. ENLIST THE HELP OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS. My husband and I shuttled our kids more than usual between friends’ houses. When someone offered to watch them or to stay with my mom for a few hours, I accepted. Before getting sandwiched, I rarely did so.
3. LOOK INTO ELDER-CARE OPTIONS. Home Instead (HomeInstead.com) is a good one: Thoroughly screened caregivers come into your parent’s home to help as needed. When my mom developed anxiety and could no longer be left alone, we hired a woman to visit her. If you’re dealing with a terminal illness, look into hospice options. They’re not all the same; shop around for one that fits your values.
4. SPREAD THE RESPONSIBILITY. My sister flew in several times while my immediate family and I took a vacation. Sandwich moments only increase your need to get away and rejuvenate. You’ll be playing many roles — banker, bill payer, receptionist, scheduler, Medicaid and Medicare authority — and you’ll need assistance.
5. ENCOURAGE YOUR OLDER KIDS TO HELP WITH HOUSEHOLD CHORES. As dental professionals, we often feel guilty about not being home enough, so we let our kids skip out on dishes or laundry. During times of distress, though, insist on a shared household work plan.
6. MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF EVEN THOUGH IT FEELS LIKE THERE IS NONE. Without exercise and meditation, I might have slipped into a deeper depression. Toward the end of my mom’s illness, I came to dread the very idea of getting out of bed. Find time for yourself, and consider hiring a counselor to help you through these rough spots.
Expect to be sandwiched at some point. Our parents are living longer, and we’re having children later in life. You’ve got to mentally prepare — it’ll help you alleviate the mental and physical demands of caregiving, and enable you to survive both personally and professionally.
DR. LISA KNOWLES has practiced for
16 years. She founded IntentionalDental
Consulting (IntentionalDental.com) to help dentists have more peace in their practices. She blogs at Beyond32Teeth.com.