There are days when I feel I am sheer out of strength. My Superwoman cape, which has so diligently lifted me above family frenzy in order to rescue countless days, has also become frayed like a shawl after it’s been discovered by a Jack Russell pup. Raising my children while also helping my aging parents has been utterly exhausting. Surprisingly, however, it has also been deeply rewarding. This is my story of surviving in The Sandwich Generation.
What is the Sandwich Generation?
I was surprised to find out how many folks had never heard the term Sandwich Generation. It was originally introduced in 1981 by social worker Dorothy Miller and gerontologist Elaine Brody, respectively. Then, in 1992, journalist Carol Abaya began publishing a magazine called The Sandwich Generation: You and Your Aging Parents. In 2006, Merriam-Webster officially added the phrase to its dictionary.
In each instance, a member of The Sandwich Generation is defined as anyone caring for their aging parents and their children (or even grandchildren) concurrently.
Keeping in line with the current trend of abbreviating words with more than one syllable, I’d like to rename The Sandwich Generation. From here on, I shall refer to it as The San Gen.
I work a fulfilling, fulltime job. I’m divorced and currently without a “significant other.” I’m a grown child to a divorced, 80-year old mom and an 88-year old dad (with memories issues)—who each live alone, in close proximity to my town. I’ve got a daughter in college living about three-hours away, two stepsons just starting college (living close by), and another son who commutes to college and lives with me. And, last but not least, there’s Louie, our 9-year old rescue mutt who acts as my personal bodyguard, and, unwittingly, reminds us all of how precious unconditional love can be.
(Yes, I look to my dog as a reminder of how patience and forgiveness can mean the world on any given day. But there are other given days. Days when Louie is busy chasing squirrels and I am enveloped in trying to manage the lives of six other humans, aside from my own.)
Before I complain too much, I must admit that I am grateful. My children are semi-adults; albeit youngish, they can be self-sufficient when push comes to shove. My parents are reasonably healthy considering their ages. My employer is family-friendly, so having to use a personal day for an important kid event, or to take my dad to the doctor is, for the most part, acceptable.
My parents, although not wealthy, have social-security income plus whatever is left in their 401K’s. Financially, it can be stressful, but, fortunately, not devastating. My youngsters have part-time jobs. Yet, I am constantly balancing (or contributing to) everyone’s budgets. (Amazon, Bird Scooters, Lyft, Door Dash, Netflix, do you hear my pleas for help?)
If I didn’t practice a self-imposed, stress-management program, my head would definitely have erupted like a volcano by now. There are times when I feel it’s just too much—it’s more than one person can handle. Yet, the reality is, it has to be handled.
So, here’s what I do…
- I take time every morning (and/or evening) to meditate. I don’t necessarily sit cross-legged and chant, but I try to quiet my mind and feel a sense of gratitude for all the positive things that surround us. (This can include having a roof over our heads, good health, as well as the invention of the M&M McFlurry.)
- I get a cheap Chinese Massage once a month. The sign outside says, “Foot Massage” but, honestly, they attack your whole body for an hour. It’s a slight abuse of “pressure points” but it’s still a great vehicle for relaxation and/or distraction. And affordable.
- I make sure to get exercise EVERYDAY. If I don’t make it to the gym, I walk. I don’t have to be training for the Ironman. Moving my body moves my mind, my perspective, and positively adjusts my mood.
I’ve come to realize that what’s most important to each of us is our independence.
My kids struggle daily to achieve their independence. My parents strive to hold onto theirs. And, I want mine, too, even amidst all of the caretaking. In essence, that’s what I try and honor for each of us, as often as possible. Keeping this revelation in mind is what allows me to temper any uneasy, every-so-often, feelings of resentment.
As members of the the San Gen, we need all the help we can get. Enlisting friends, family, and community is necessary. Sometimes my mom will cook for my kids on the weekend. I have a cell locator for my dad. (As long as he doesn’t lose his phone, we won’t lose him.) However, some nights, my son will have to drive over, retrieve his grandpa, and bring him home safely. Other nights, neighbors will help.
As caretakers, we have to remind ourselves, OFTEN, to take big, deep breaths. Aside from the appointments, high-maintenance, and paperwork, there are a lot of other elements that can be otherwise eye-opening and soul-filling.
Watching (and feeling) family relationships strengthen can be extremely rewarding.
Experiencing a change in former relationship-habits can be life altering. I, for one, have become a better person since resolving (and forgiving) challenges I’ve had with my own parents. And as for my relationship with my own children, I’ve become wiser and more forgiving.
This is just my story.
But I hope it can help you, even a little, especially when it comes to the enormous task of being an active member in the #SanGenClub (can we make this hashtag a thing?). For me, my Superwoman cape regenerates its strength when I allow for the care of my own needs. I hope you plan to do the same for you, your cape, and your family.