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What to Do When You're Caught in the Middle on Mother's Day

Don't lose out just because you're in the "sandwich generation."

Key points

  • The “sandwich generation” is parents between 35 and 54 years old who are caring for aging parents while also caring for their own children. 
  • Moms of all ages may feel ignored as they take care of Mother's Day celebrations for their children, grandchildren, parents, and other relatives.
  • Several techniques can help you make the most of the day.
  • Taking care of your own needs and appreciating your children all year round can make Mother's Day better

Alma* feels like she’s always in the middle. She’s the middle child in her family, a mid-level executive at her job, and a mother who, this Mother’s Day, is feeling like she’s caught smack in the middle between her own mom, her husband’s mom, and her daughter, who is also a mom.

“I’m trying to make a special celebratory lunch so that they all feel special. My daughter has just called to ask if she can bring her husband’s family—her mother- and father-in-law. It’s fine. Fortunately, the weather’s supposed to be beautiful, so we’ll have a picnic in the backyard. It’ll be fun.”

“But,” Alma said, “I wonder if any of them remember that I’m a mom, too! It’s supposed to be my day as well.”

The “sandwich generation” is traditionally considered to be parents between 35 and 54 years old who are caring for aging parents while also caring for their own children. But each year as Mother’s Day approaches, I hear from many moms in a wide range of ages who feel, like Alma, that they have to take care of the mothers in the generations above and below themselves and that their own motherhood gets lost in the shuffle.

Alma didn’t want to be selfish. “I’m happy to make the lunch—I enjoy it, and it’s not hard for me,” she said. “I just don’t want to be forgotten!”

If you’re feeling similarly, like you’re taking care of other mothers’ needs but don’t trust that anyone is going to take care of you, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you’ll have a good Mother’s Day too.

It’s OK to put your own needs out there.

Be direct. For instance, in my family, my sister-in-law and I both send an email to our children with the subject heading “What Mom would like for Mother’s Day.” We give a range of requests with a range of reasonable prices. I also always add that I’m happy to be surprised since my daughter-in-law comes up with wonderful ideas on her own.

You can make your request funny or sweet or as fancy as you like. Just remember one basic rule: No guilt-tripping. I have a friend who says she wants her children to want to give her something, and if they don’t want to do it, well, she must have done something wrong. It’s fine to take the blame on yourself as long as you really mean it. But if you're just trying to make your family feel guilty if they don’t get you anything, or if they don’t get you something you want, it will inevitably backfire.

Source: artmim/123RF
Source: artmim/123RF

Take care of yourself.

Really. Don’t offer to host a family Mother’s Day if it’s not something you would enjoy doing. If you feel like you have no choice, since your home is centrally located or the only place big enough for everyone, but you dread doing the cooking, here's an important piece of advice: Don’t cook. Make it a potluck meal, and enjoy the hodgepodge of foods that come in, or assign everyone one or two specific food groups to bring if it’s important to you to have a well-balanced meal.

And have family members and guests sign up to be part of the set-up or clean-up committee. Nowhere is it written that you have to do all the cooking, the setting up, and the cleaning up on Mother’s Day—or, in fact, on any other day.

Buy yourself a present.

Sure, it’s not the same thing as getting something special from a loved one who is letting you know how much they appreciate you as a mom, but it’s better than feeling sorry for yourself because you’re stuck in the middle, and no one got you anything.

Remember that this is a commercial holiday.

Whether you go out to eat or stay home, whether you get flowers or gifts or a sweet card or a phone call or nothing at all, this day is commercially manufactured. It has very little to do with whether or not your children love you and whether or not you love your own mother.

Look for ways that your children and your parents express their love and appreciation throughout the year.

Do your children call to share good news or check in to see how you’re doing? Does your mom ask how you’re doing? Paying attention to small gestures of love throughout the year can make it easier if your kids forget Mother’s Day. It can also take the pressure off if you don’t provide the perfect venue for your own mom, aunt, or mother-in-law.

Remember that one day can’t make up for an entire year.

If those gestures aren’t there during the year, you can’t repair everything in your relationship with your mom or your kid in a single day. Don’t try. But maybe use this as a reminder that your relationships need a little work. What can you do to improve them? What can you ask someone else to do? And what do you need to stop trying to change and simply accept?

The answers to these questions can help you move out of the middle of the sandwich—even it’s just for long enough to take a deep, soothing breath.

*names and info changed to protect privacy


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