stuck in the middle

Nobody Told Me About The Third-Life Crisis

I’m stuck between raising kids and helping out my folks, and it’s hard — mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Written by Holly Garcia
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock, Crate & Barrel
The Sandwich Generation Issue

We've all heard about the “mid-life crisis.” You know, the moment that propels someone to hop in the driver’s seat and take control of their life. They decide they’ve had enough, and dammit, this is their time. Maybe those decisions are good, maybe they’re bad, but they’re loud and they’re deliberate. The stereotype is a tiny, fast, bright red sports car that absolutely cannot fit a car seat.

It’s easy and exciting to think that the older we get, the fewer worries we have, except that isn’t necessarily true.

Instead of the sports car, there’s a whole generation of us out there who are stuck in between. We’re raising our own family while also seeing the painful truth that our parents aren’t getting any younger. We’re the sandwich generation — the moms, the daughters, the ones expected to do it all.

So why didn’t anyone tell me that this was a thing? Would I ever get my chance to break free? When we play both roles, there isn’t time — we don't get one. Instead, we're assigned the Herculean task of raising a family and caring for aging parents without losing our minds.

By the time my grandparents reached the point my mom was actively involved in their care, I was an adult. So I pictured a similar timeline for myself. Oh, how wrong I was.

When I was 29 years old, I found myself balancing the work of raising two young daughters, both under 7 years old, and supporting my mom after her life-changing cancer diagnosis. Overnight, my biggest worry went from keeping my cool in the school drop-off line to wrapping my head around how to tell my littles their grandma might die.

This third-life crisis wasn’t a run-of-the-mill daily life conundrum. Let me explain that term: In my family, the women tend to live into their 90s. I did a little math when this all hit me at 30 and started calling it my third-life crisis. I needed a term big enough to convey to myself and other people that this wasn’t just the regular daily grind. This wasn’t figuring out how to conquer the laundry pile, or juggle youth sports with family time. This wasn’t something I could avoid until it resolved itself. This was an epic journey that lasted over a year, in and out of the ICU and through more chemo and radiation treatments than I could count. I worked from beside my mom’s hospital bed during the day, and at night, I went home to parent my girls with whatever energy I had left.

Thankfully, after consistent treatment, incredible doctors, and a few too many close calls, my mom recovered. I moved my mobile workspace from the hospital to rehab, where she learned to drink, eat, and walk again. But in all that time, bouncing back and forth from my mom to my kids, I never really got a chance to process my own trauma and feelings from the situation because I was too busy trying to find the balance between helping everybody else.

Mine is an extreme example of what moms sandwiched between an older and younger generation face every day. More and more of us are caught between caring for our kids and our parents. When do we get the chance to care for ourselves? No one prepared me for the third-life crisis. Honestly, I didn’t even know it was a thing.

The fact is that people are waiting longer to start their families. While there is no wrong time to begin your family, prepare for the possibility of challenges you might face balancing raising your family and caring for your aging family.

Thankfully, there are ways to make this season a little less hard. Even though moms tend to get cast in *waves hands around wildly* all the caretaking roles, we don’t have to do it alone. It wasn’t easy to admit I needed help, but it was either that or having a complete breakdown.

Once, I asked the mom of one of my daughter’s friends if the girls could hang out with them while I talked power of attorney with my dad and siblings. It was already a painful conversation, but knowing my kids were having fun and I didn’t have to hurry home was such a relief. It was a million small moments like this that helped me move forward. It made me feel like balance was possible-ish.

If you need time to rest and recharge, don’t feel guilty for saying no or letting someone else take a turn. I know it’s easier said than done, but self-care is non-negotiable. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Feeling like this doesn’t make you a bad daughter, and it doesn’t make you a bad mom. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the people you love in your life. Feeling frustrated, and overwhelmed, and perpetually exhausted just makes you human. It's okay if we aren't okay. It's okay to ask for some help.

Everyone's “third-life-crisis” looks different. There isn’t one kind of circumstance that is harder or more deserving of acknowledgment than any other. So let’s make sure we talk about it. Let’s encourage and support other parents in the sandwich generation by talking about the struggle.

Go ahead and shout from the rooftops that the third-life crisis is very real. Or maybe, shout it from that adorable convertible you went all in on as you drive away.

Holly Garcia writes about parenting, mental health, and all the lifestyle things. She hails from the Midwest, where she’s raising her daughters and drinking copious amounts of coffee.