Are you an adult who cares for children or teens at home and also has responsibility for caring for elderly relatives or neighbors? If you answered “yes,” you’re not alone. According to a Pew Research Center Report nearly half of all adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent who is 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child. Social Worker, Dorothy Miller, created the term “sandwich generation” in 1981 to refer to this group of adults. These folks are so much a part of our culture that in 2006 the term was formalized by inclusion in Merriam-Webster and Oxford English dictionaries. Perhaps you are a part of what journalist and sandwich generation expert, Carol Abaya, calls the traditional sandwich (those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and their own children); club sandwich (those in their 50s-60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren, or those in their 30s-40s with young children, aging parents, and grandparents); or open-faced sandwich (anyone else involved in elder care). Regardless of your type of sandwich – traditional, club, or open-faced – your life is likely a combination of loving satisfaction and accumulating stress.
While this can be a positive and loving experience (the same Pew report cites 84% of the sandwiched adults report happy lives), it still brings significant stress. Consider some questions that are stress triggers for those living in the sandwich:
• How do I split my time between my children and family and my elder loved one?
• How much of my time is too much time in each caregiving role?
• How do I find time for my marriage?
• How do I find time for myself?
• How do I keep the generational peace between my kids and my elder loved one?
• How do I find the resources that I need for myself and my loved one?
• How do I combat my feelings of isolation?
• How do I cope with the guilt of not having enough time to accomplish all that I feel that I should be doing?
All of this points to the critical need for the sandwiched caregiver to actively pursue self-care by tending to emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. We will look more specifically at ways of self-care to reduce stress in future blogs. For now remember that no matter how convinced you are that you can’t possibly find the time to take care of yourself, you can. It involves asking hard questions like: what am I doing that I can stop doing?; how can I streamline my schedule?; what do I have control of in my life and schedule and can, therefore, change?; are there people on whom I can depend for help? We will take up self-care and stress reduction next week. For now start gathering answers to those questions. Sometimes the first important step in stress reduction is to recognize that (a) there are some things in my control that I can change; and (b) there are some people to whom I can turn for help.