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How to Keep Your Sanity During the Holidays

If one can believe the old Westerns, frontier women multi-tasked by rocking a cradle with their foot to quiet a squalling baby, while pounding out bread dough with her fists, bossing a full crew of young kids and maybe dodging a few bullets. Oh, yeah, since it was just days before Christmas, she would also be trying to knit a scarf for her husband during odd bits of time.

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That scenario sounds like a walk in the park to some modern caregivers, especially those known as the sandwich generation because they are raising children while caring for their parents. At this time of the year, nearly every parent has one, if not several, school holiday programs to attend, plus church or other religious programs they want their children to participate in. Many have a full-time job, which often requires attendance at office functions outside of work hours, not to mention festivities during work time that pretty much require a big smile and a batch of home-made cookies. Is this your story?

Prior to your dad's stroke and your mom's dementia, the busy season described above would be a "normal" Christmas for you and your family – rushed but still mostly pleasant. You still would have had the emotional reserves to enjoy the cuteness of your son's solo in his program, and the humor and time to write individual notes in your cards to friends.

Feel Like You're Ignoring Holiday Duties?

Not now. The house sits undecorated, the traditional cookie recipes lay hopelessly strewn across your kitchen counter, and when you attend your kids' programs you fight to make yourself look like you actually want to be there.

The addition of your parents' ill health was a tipping point between enjoying your holiday season and your current feeling of teetering on the edge of insanity. You seemed to have left your sense of humor at the nursing home when you decorated your mom's room. She didn't recognize you, and she thought you were tearing her house apart to steal her things. Add to that the fact that you are trying to cope with your Dad's partial paralysis and inability to swallow – well, your personal pain level is nearly beyond endurance.

Caregivers Tend to Spread Themselves Too Thin

You think back. Mom had always been helpful, doing some of the baking and stepping in when you needed help with the kids. Dad was good natured and would even pitch in with some decorating tasks when your husband was traveling. Now your parents both need help. Lots of help. Your kids still need you. Your spouse needs you. You feel like everyone wants a piece of you.

You feel angry and that leads to guilt. Where is the justice? And where is the will to celebrate? Celebrate what? You feel as though you are in some ugly nightmare from which you hope to awake and have everything back to normal.

What's a caregiver to do?

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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