Do you have aging parents or grandparents as well as children? Are you caring for an older adult? If so, you are a member of the sandwich generation, a term coined by Dorothy Miller in 1981 that has become so ubiquitous that it was enshrined in the Miriam-Webster dictionary in 2006.
Sandwich families are everywhere! Eldercare journalist Carol Abaya defines three types of generational sandwiches:
1. Traditional: Those sandwiched between their own children and heir aging parents who need care or help.
2. Club Sandwich: Those sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren OR those with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
3. Open-Faced Sandwich: Anyone else caring for an older adult.
Perhaps this group should be called the ‘rubber band generation’ as we are pulled in one direction by elder care needs and another by dependent care needs. Or maybe we should be called the ‘ping pong ball’ generation as we bounce between trips to the pediatrician and the geriatrician.
Whatever we call it, it has its unique joys and challenges.
Be Ready for Role Reversal: Becoming the caregiver for someone who once cared for you is the emotional rollercoaster of role reversal. Give yourself space to navigate and process a new dynamic.
Share the Burden: Resources that need to be re-allocated include time, energy and finances. You do not have to do everything by yourself. Make sure your children are doing age-appropriate tasks for themselves. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to enlist siblings, spouses, partners and friends to support you.
Hire a Helper: Prioritize a handful of tasks that you prefer to do yourself and hire a helper to wash the dog or drive the carpool.
Get Professional Assistance: Use professional resources such as counselors, lawyers, accountants, supportive online networks and pastoral care to help you find your way.
Discuss your Status with your Boss: By having a frank discussion with your boss, you can explore options that may ease the balance between family and work life.
Don’t Miss Out on Joy: Caring for others can be messy and tiring but can also provide immense moments of joy and gratitude if we keep our hearts and minds open.
There are lots of online resources such disease specific advocate networks (Alzheimer’s, heart disease, etc.), area agencies on aging, including the United Way and pages related to seniors and senior issues that can provide a variety of information.
Frannie Horn is an Associate Licensed Counselor under the supervision of Carol Hollis-White, LPC-S. She practices with Apollo Counseling and see individuals and couples.