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The Sandwich Generation


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It's one of those days. You have a lot to do at your job and the load is heavier because a co-worker called in sick. At 10:00 am your work is interrupted by a call from your husband wanting to know if you remembered to deposit the money he asked you to so that the check to the car dealer does not bounce. You tell him you won't be able to do it before your lunch break and hang up wondering why you didn't just tell him to do it himself. At 12:30 when you are preparing to go for lunch, your daughter calls and tells you she forgot her flash drive at home and needs it to get a school project printed that is due today. You yell at her in justified frustration and hang up the phone.

After a harried lunch break of depositing money - thank heavens the ATM was working, driving home to pick up your daughter's flash drive (in the process you notice that she also has a printout of a very graphic email and photo from a young man who you have banned her from seeing - obviously that is what finished the printer ink at home) and dropping it off to her school, you grab a quick lunch at prepare to eat it at your desk. An hour later, as you try to catch up with your work feeling a little stressed about confronting your daughter, you get a call from your mother's nurse saying that she is refusing to take her medication and is becoming violent again. You tell her you will take care of it and you hang up and sit at your desk with your head in your hands.

You are not alone in your dilemma. You are a part of a class of adults who have been labeled the Sandwich Generation. These are persons who take care of children as well as elderly parents. It can be a very stressful situation as you find yourself being pulled in many different directions. What often happens is that you sometimes end up just letting things go, like the behavior of one of your children, just so you can deal with another more pressing issue, like your housekeeping duties or taking care of your parent. When this happens, your child or teenager gets away with some unacceptable behaviour simply because you were just too busy to chastise them or deal with it in totality.

There is also some guilt sometimes, when you feel like you could be doing more for the mother or father who took care of you as a child. You sense of obligation forces you to go above and beyond what may be the call of duty and run yourself ragged in an effort to feel like you have not been neglectful.

If you are in a similar scenario where you find yourself torn between your obligation to your children, husband and your parent, it is helpful to stop and take a look at the situation and see what can be done differently.

Set Priorities: Everything does not have to be done immediately and by you. Of all your obligations, you will have an idea of what are the most important things that you have to do. Start each day with a list and put a 1, 2 or 3 next to them to indicate the order of importance. Ensure that you complete the No. 1 items before you move to the No. 2's and so on.
Also remember that it is okay to say no sometimes when someone asks you to do things that you are not able to. If possible, refer them to someone else or make an arrangement to help them later when it is more convenient.

Time Management: This is not the art of seeing how many things we can cram into one day. It is more the ability to utilize your time wisely so that you work smart and not only hard. Ensure that there is adequate division between work, other obligations and also some time for leisure. It is being able to derive the greatest benefit out of your time.

Seek Family Support: If the parent is living in your home, you might want to ask a sibling to share the responsibility of staying with the parent sometimes so you can have some time with your husband or family to go out. They might also be able to help financially with the costs of caring for the parent in terms of medication, a care-taker, special food needs or doctor visit bills.

Get Professional Help: Professional help can take the form of a housekeeper or a nurse or aide for your parent's care. It does not have to be expensive. There are often people we know and trust from our communities or our church who will for a small fee, come in once or twice a week to help with some essential chores. There might also exist in your community a service for eligible elderly persons whereby aides come into the home to help with various tasks if the person is old or frail enough. If you are going to pay out of pocket for services, maybe your siblings can help you, since the care of an elderly parent should be a shared commitment on the part of all children and not just a burden on one.

Take care of yourself: Not taking care of yourself can result in excess stress or health problems. You have to make your mental and physical health of utmost importance. You cannot take care of anyone else, if you yourself are not well. Take time out to be alone or to engage in some activity that relaxes you or brings you some pleasure. This will also reduce or eliminate any resentment that creeps in when we find ourselves doing too much for others and nothing for ourselves.

The Understanding Spouse: Appeal to your spouse's understanding nature in matters relating to your children and maybe some household chores. Love is not just a word, it should also be expressed with action. He or she should understand when to take the kids out so you can have some time alone or be willing to help with things around the house so that you do not suffer burnout.

Remember you are just one person, with 2 arms and 2 legs. Banish the idea that you were meant to be superman or Superwoman and accept the idea that while you are a nurturing and caring person, there are limits to what is humanly possible.

Koren Norton, B. Sc. , LMSW


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