The Inside Scoop on, “Are You Taking Time for Yourself?”

Seinfeld fans can usually quote many of the show’s infamous lines.  One that stands out for me is, “You gotta come and see the baabby.” In that episode, Jerry expresses his annoyance with new parents who emphatically insist that he come and “see the baabby.”  As a former family caregiver, I likened and recognized that same whiny tone every time someone in my circle of colleagues, friends or family told me, “You gotta take time for yourself.”

Granted, it is well meaning advice, but that didn’t matter. Here’s why… instead of feeling the intended concern, my mind cycled details of my caregiving situation and had the opposite effect- not understood. I was usually dumbfounded by the “Are you taking time for yourself?” finger wag, as it would launch a perpetual mental to-do list, in my too much to do, not enough time to do it, working full-time, sandwich generation, family caregiving lifestyle.

Smiling politely and nodding, my inner dialog was much different…Of course, I’ll just head to the gym after work, skip the visit to check on Dad, while my school age daughter, who is hungry for dinner, waits to be picked up from after school care. What’s that? Just get up a little earlier to hit the treadmill? You bet, even less sleep will do me good. Sure, there’s always the workday lunch hour, I’ll spend even less time connecting with colleagues and will stop using that window of time for paying bills (for two households), or speaking with any member of Dad’s healthcare team, (then updating the rest of the family) or running endless errands on my family’s behalf? (i.e. prescriptions, Depends, and even thank you gifts for the team of friends helping to watch my daughter) Gosh, I didn’t realize it’s only a time-management thing!

Sarcastic, I know.

Unfortunately, I’m confident that my internal response was common and shared among many caregivers. (The ‘take time’ topic routinely receives a lot of reaction/comments in caregiver online forums and chat rooms.)

On behalf of hardworking family caregivers, I’m daring to share this thread of inner dialogue to expose the annoyance (anger, weariness, isolation) that could very well be lurking just beneath the stoic exterior of the colleague in the cube beside you.  A colleague who is perhaps a family caregiver/working professional who is doing their best to put one foot in front of the other to get through each day.

For what it’s worth, no one disagrees that taking time for self is sound advice and absolutely necessary. We should all be mindful of good health practices. On a cerebral level, using logic and common sense, it is a given. But to a caregiver deep in the weeds it is both the head and the heart that is doing the thinking. Being mired in the circumstances of a seriously ill or elderly loved one means you’re doing what you can, in spite of how helpless you feel. It feels seemingly absurd to put yourself first. The person suggesting it may well be showing cloying ignorance of the caregiver’s situation.

So, what’s to be done? This is no damned if I do/don’t situation! Simply be mindful that casually remarking (albeit, with practical and sage advice) isn’t the same as helping.

In the workplace, try asking instead-“How are you?” And then really listen.

If it’s someone with whom you have a personal relationship, try- “How can I help?”  Don’t be dissuaded by a possible blank, deer-in-the-headlights expression! Suggest how you could help and what day works for you.  For example, assistance for an hour or two of child care, or to stop over to help with something around the house, or to drop off a home cooked meal.

The flip side is for caregivers to understand that that person suggesting it is not intentionally minimizing your situation. Internalizing feelings of isolation and not feeling understood is not healthy. A two-part webinar dedicated to the topic of “Take Time For Yourself” can be found in the Services section. View Here



Sarabeth Persiani

Sarahbeth Persiani is the author of Run, Walk, Crawl- A Caregiver Caught Between Generations. For five years, Sarahbeth was the primary caregiver for her Father, who had dementia, while working full-time and taking care of her own family. As the founder of We Are Sharing the Sun, her focus these days is to help companies create a supportive culture for family caregivers and provide education, support and encouragement for working professionals who are themselves in the sandwich squeeze.