Balancing Lawyering and Caregiving in the Sandwich Generation: A Woman’s Perspective

Stotler Hayes Group, LLC

Stotler Hayes Group, LLC

Alzheimer’s. April 2023 (I’d dig out the exact date, but that would take even more time away from caretaking and lawyering). That’s when my 76-year-old mother, my only remaining parent, who had been living alone 163 miles away from me for the past 10 years, became part of the estimated 6.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in 2023. See Centers of Disease Control, Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging, available here (last visited February 28, 2024).

As women, we often find ourselves navigating multiple roles and responsibilities. We are mothers, romantic partners, daughters, sisters, and professionals. But what happens when we need to be all of these things at the same time? This is true for many women in the sandwich generation, who must care for aging parents and raise children while wanting to promote and excel in their careers but also operating under the constraints of centuries of social norms regarding the role of women in society.

For me, the Fall of 2022 through the end of 2023 was an absolute whirlwind of realizing how badly mom’s memory had begun to fail; primary care; CT Scan, MRI, and neurologist final diagnosis appointments; ensuring her graceful retirement from her more-than 50-year career in education; packing up/downsizing and moving her to an Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care progressive community in my city; preparing and selling the only house she’d lived in for 47 years; and learning about and addressing the multiple infections she had at the time of the move that were the result of her memory loss and further negatively affecting her cognition and demeanor.

2023, the same year my daughter was graduating high school and completing her college search and applications; we needed to solidify college funding; we moved her into college (very thankfully, less than two hours away); and she, like many adolescent-brained individuals, experienced a less-than-stellar first semester. The same year, my son, who suffers from Angelman Syndrome (Deletion Positive Variation) and who chronologically turned 12 in December 2023, but who has an approximately 15-month-old cognition and is nonverbal, has limited independent mobility, has an attendant seizure disorder, and requires full assistance with all Activities of Daily Living, was preparing to transition from elementary school to middle school.

As a lawyer – especially a female lawyer – in the sandwich generation, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of balancing lawyering and caregiving. There are, however, ways to best manage it.

First, it’s essential to prioritize your responsibilities. Determine what tasks are urgent and what can wait. Only some emails truly require an immediate response. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family or friends or to hire a caregiver for your loved one. It’s okay to delegate tasks and rely on others when needed.

Second, set boundaries and be present in the moment, which is much easier said than done and is the subject of numerous mental health articles and books. When you’re at work, focus on work. When you’re with your loved one, be fully present and engaged. Avoid multitasking as much as possible, which often leads to mistakes and causes undue excess stress.

Third, harness technology. I am very grateful to work for a Firm that has been remote since its inception more than 11 years ago and since I joined the Firm in December 2014. Technological tools such as virtual meeting platforms, cloud-based document management systems, and mobile applications for legal research and case management allow for greater flexibility in managing professional obligations remotely, especially in urgent times of caregiving obligations. My Firm’s robust annual technology reimbursement enabled me to buy the largest cellular telephone of my choice to make reading and writing emails on the go easier when needed.

Fourth, use your lawyering skills and knowledge to protect and advocate for your loved ones in your caretaking role. The knowledge and skills I’ve gained working in the healthcare industry have been immeasurably helpful in navigating the increased needs and issues and advocating for my mother and son. The general reasoning skills I gained as a lawyer also helped me to help my budding adult daughter navigate her newly independent world of attending college away from home.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, take care of yourself and accept grace. As a Partner at the Firm who was historically a top biller, 2023 was a new and very uncomfortable experience for me, falling to the bottom quarter of the billing ranking. With all the above-noted personal obligations, I was barely able to bill above our Firm’s exceptionally reasonable yearly 1620-hour requirement when I had billed more than 1900 hours in multiple prior years. Make time for self-care activities such as exercise, reading, or hobbies – in full disclosure, none of which I do. But I have and continue to do multiple weekly counseling sessions – personal, with my daughter, and with my husband. It is undoubtedly essential to prioritize our mental and physical health to give our best to those around us.

Being a female lawyer in the sandwich generation is challenging, to say the least, but it’s also rewarding. It allows us to use our skills and knowledge to protect and advocate for our loved ones. By prioritizing, setting boundaries, harnessing technology, and taking care of/showing grace to ourselves, we can learn from this indisputably challenging stage of life so that we can continue to thrive in our careers and caregiving roles.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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