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Balancing act: The sandwich generation perspective

Veronica Diaz working from home alongside her daughter, Emma.

Veronica Diaz working from home alongside her daughter, Emma.

By Veronica Diaz

While the last year has been challenging for most of us, I want to give kudos to parents in the workforce who are juggling new and increased responsibilities due to the global pandemic.  If you know a working mom or dad, I encourage you to be extra kind to them. I speak from experience when I tell you they are not OK.

When my daughter, Emma, was born in December 2019 I expected my life to change. Though I didn’t anticipate it would be for reasons other than having a newborn. Once the pandemic hit I had so many unanswered questions that left me feeling overwhelmed.

Our offices closed in March 2020 and transitioned to a remote work environment. I was scheduled to go back at the end of May and working from home while caring for my daughter wasn’t ever a part of the plan. I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Parents everywhere were struggling. According to a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in 10 working mothers with children under 18 said they quit a job due to COVID and half of this group cited school closures as one of the reasons. In addition, three out of 10 working mothers said they had to take time off because school or daycare was closed.

Upon becoming a new Mom, I was also unofficially inducted into the sandwich generation. My parents are older and have a number of health conditions requiring frequent doctors’ appointments. In addition, English is their second language, so I am very involved in helping coordinate their care.

Refill your own pitcher first

Though everyone’s circumstances are different, I knew I was not alone in trying to master this balancing act. While I’m still finding my way there is one thing I am certain of ─ prioritizing self-care is essential. Here are some of tips that have helped me cope with all of my newfound responsibilities:

  • Make a daily list. Be mindful of all your competing priorities and write down what absolutely needs to get done. I try to keep it to three items so that my goals are realistic and achievable, which provides me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
  • Protect your calendar. It’s easy to fall into back-to-back video conferences, which makes it hard to get anything done. Block out time for lunch, breaks and parental duties. Little pockets of time spent away from the computer make a big difference in my day.
  • Take time for yourself. Finding small things that keep me energized, happy and healthy allow me to keep giving to those around me. I make sure I have one hour all to myself each day for a workout at home, going to the gym, or even a morning walk with my cup of coffee. Sometimes that means I need to wake up extra early (like 4:15 a.m.) to get that hour, but it’s something I look forward to and helps me start my day off right, so I always make it a priority.
  • Stay connected to your support network. AmeriHealth New Jersey has gone above and beyond to ensure we continue to maintain close connections with one another. There are a number of virtual events including birthday celebrations, book club, bingo, water cooler conversations, and meditation and exercise classes. These programs have been really helpful in navigating my unique return-to-work scenario. And, staying connected to with my colleagues has been instrumental in helping me not feel isolated while working from home. It might feel stressful to sign up for something that will take away from getting work done, but believe me when I say you will be happy you did it.

It’s been a challenging year, but this time with my daughter will never be lost. Under no other circumstance would we be able to have breakfast together each morning or take walks at lunch. She has also become a regular attendee to most of my video conferences and loves to say hello.

I’m incredibly grateful for this time together and now have a greater appreciation for the phrase, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Veronica Diaz is Manager of Sales Enablement for AmeriHealth New Jersey.