I received this great article from one of my friend’s moms. She is a Marriage and Family Therapist who wrote about her upcoming experience of having her children enter into “The Sandwich Generation” phase of their lives. This is her story.
I am turning 60 this year and I can see my adult kids watching. “Does she have any signs of heart problems or colon cancer like her dad or dementia like her mom?” “Is she eating right, exercising, drinking too much or taking her meds daily?” I’m waiting for the day they say I am not allowed up from the dinner table if I don’t finish my vegetables. They are watching me the way I used to watch them. I guess this is how the sandwiching begins.
The Sandwich Generation does not refer to those addicted to fast delivery sub sandwiches. It refers to adults that are caring for the needs of children at the same time they are caring for the needs of their parents. With my son and daughter-in-law expecting their first child and me being 80 when that child becomes an adult, the odds are pretty good my adult kids will be sandwiched. I don’t want to be one of those parents that pretends they will be healthy forever and never need to be cared for. I want to try to prepare to make this sandwiching easier on all of us.
So now I’m working out at Orange Theory 2x’s a week and buying expensive running shoes that I actually go running in. I’m eating a constant flow of fruits and vegetables and for the first time in 25 years of taking daily meds, I’m finally not missing a single day. I know these are good things and that they will certainly help my overall health but will they really reduce my kids stress of being sandwiched? Probably not.
Since it’s not realistic to think that our family will take a pass on this whole sandwich thing, here’s a few truths to help us get through this with a reasonable amount of sanity:
1. Forget “supposed to.” How each family and each generation deals with being sandwiched is completely individual. It’s not a contest of who can keep their parents in their home the longest or who can afford in-home nursing or a high-class retirement home. There’s no binding contract that just because your parents did X, Y, or Z for their parents, you have to do the same. Push back against outside expectations and focus on your own family’s needs and abilities.
2. You can’t prepare for everything. The sandwich generation is a season of life just like any other. Difficult things will happen that you can prepare for and difficult things will happen that there’s no preparation for at all. Think about other seasons of life that you prepared for: high school, leaving home, starting a family. Now think about the unexpected hurdles which came that you overcame. See? It’s OK that you don’t have control over everything.
3. Everyone will not feel cared for all the time. You love your parents and your children but you cannot be all things to all of them. This is complicated because as they are facing struggles, they are not fully aware of your struggles of caring for all of them. When each of us face struggles, especially health struggles, we tend to focus on ourselves. Whether it is medical problems, academic/financial problems, or loneliness, you can’t fix everyone else’s problems regardless of how much you love them. Set a boundary of what you can and can not do and stand by it.
4. The important things, money can’t fix. If there is one thing I want my kids to have when they get sandwiched, it’s confidence. Confidence that whatever comes, I’ll be alright and they will be alright. Being alright is not a measure of our physical health or our financial security. It’s knowing that your family relationships are not defined by this season but rather the accumulation of every seed of kindness that has been planted by everyone involved: parents and children.
Above all, everyone – grandparent, parent, teen or young child – needs to remember this truth of one another:
“I love you when I am with you and I love you when I am not with you.”
No one can be all things for all people so we give what we can, share with an open heart, and love through every struggle.
– Karen Tripp, MS LMFT