The Sandwich Generation: Caring for Kids and Aging Parents

by Pamela on June 10, 2010

As Baby Boomers Age, Many Gen-X’ers Will Find Themselves In The Sandwich Generation

I haven’t posted one article since February. Not one.

I have done zero marketing.

I have done no networking.

Where have I been? What have I been doing?

I’ve been adjusting to my new reality and I have to admit, I’m not doing a great job of balancing everything at the moment. My coach peers and clients will be shocked to hear this!

I am part of a growing group of people called the Sandwich Generation. What is the Sandwich Generation? According to Wikipedia, the Sandwich Generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. In my case, I have a 6 year old son and parents who are in their late 70’s and early 80’s. The trend will grow because more people are having kids later in life. My mother was 21 when she had my sister whereas I was 37 when I had my son. The growth of the Sandwich Generation can also be attributed to the fact that the Baby Boomers are just reaching retirement age.

Sandwich Generation?? I belong to Generation X, or “Gen X.” Being part of Gen X is cool. Ya know- rebellion, apathy, angst, punk, and grunge. There is nothing sexy about a Sandwich Generation. Just the name alone is dull.

Being part of the Sandwich Generation brings a whole new dimension of hard choices. It’s no secret that women, mothers in particular, have been faced with the age-old decision of going to work, staying home to raise their children, or doing both. Now, a lot of us have added another thing to our plates: caring for our parents. I speak for myself and many of my friends when I say we’re stretched to the limit.

When I was a simple Gen-X woman, I created a nice balance of home and career. Then, last year, my father had a terrible fall which had a snowball effect. After months of hospitalization and rehab, he returned home and needed a lot of care in the beginning. My older sister and brother (Baby Boomers), and I were thrust into unfamiliar territory, and we were scared. None of us knew how to handle our new status as caregivers.

My initiation into the Sandwich Generation came before I was ready for it. One minute, I was enjoying ‘breakfast’ and all of a sudden someone decided it was time for ‘lunch’: the first piece of bread was placed on my plate and the peanut butter was being applied liberally.

When my father had his initial fall, I had a very demanding job, coaching for a company called StomperNet. I worked from my home office and most days I worked 12 hours. No one in my family could predict what his care requirements would be. I am the only one is home during the day if he should need me. My siblings don’t have that flexibility and work at least 30 minutes from my parents’ house. I had to make a choice. I decided to leave StomperNet.

After a few months, I got into a rhythm, delicately balancing work, child, husband, and parental care.

Then…….WHAM! My mother needed lung surgery. After what seemed like endless doctor’s appointments, she had surgery on March 1st of this year. She spent time at my house and at my sister’s house, convalescing, and there were many follow-up doctors’ visits. Her road to recovery was long and painful. She needed me and my siblings. At the same time, my father needed us as well.

I felt out of control. The jelly was spread on the other piece of bread. My initiation into the Sandwich Generation was complete.

What my girlfriends and I are experiencing is a loss of control over some aspects of our lives, which is unfamiliar territory for a bunch of alpha-females who are also Gen-X ‘ers. We have a feeling of helplessness as we watch our beloved parents age, their bodies betraying them at times. We can’t control that. It’s like the feeling when you see your child fall and hurt themselves- you can kiss their boo boo’s but you can’t prevent them from getting hurt in the first place, literally and figuratively. We can’t control that either.

Things are calming down for me a little. My mother is driving again and has returned to work on a sporadic basis, which allows me more time to get back into my groove. Expanding my business had to be put on the back burner for awhile, and now it’s time to dust myself off and regroup before the next tidal wave hits.

I am planning to start a support group for my Gen-X friends who have also joined the Sandwich Generation. We love our children. We love our parents. We know that we need to nurture our marriages, careers, and most importantly, our souls. We are not alone and we’ll figure this out together. We’re only in our early (ok, approaching mid) forties and we weren’t ready to swap Gen-X for the Sandwich Generation, but here we are.

Yes, sometimes it feels like a burden, and many times, it feels like a privilege to care for the parents that lovingly cared for us for so many years. When our parents pass on, we’ll no longer be the peanut butter and jelly between two pieces of bread. We’ll be sad when we lose our parents someday, and we’ll have the comfort of knowing that we did our best for them. Lunch will be over and it will be time for dinner and then dessert.

It’s the circle of life.

We’ll handle it. After all we are Gen-X’ers, and we’re made of tough stuff.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen June 10, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Love this and forwarding this — thank you!

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Pamela June 29, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Thanks, Jen.
I appreciate it!

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Sonia June 29, 2010 at 6:11 am

How true …very well written !

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Pamela June 29, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Thanks, Sonia!

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Heather Mundell August 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Pamela, what a great idea to start a support group!

I too am a coach, and I’m a Gen Xer (43), and I have kids at home, and I have parents who are not getting any younger. I’m approaching being in the sandwich generation – my parents are both independent and healthy now, but they both needed me last year in unique ways which gave me a little preview of what could be coming down the pike.

My business is helping moms in the sandwich generation stay sane, and I think your support group idea is an excellent one. I hope you can follow through with it! Would love to read about it on this blog.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Heather
Heather Mundell recently posted..From “The Trenches” – A List of Sandwich Generation BlogsMy Profile

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Pamela August 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Hi Heather-
Thanks for visiting.
It’s amazing how many of us are going through the same thing! It’s the most challenging time of my life, so far. There are days that I’m amazed at my own strength and other times when I just want to hide from my family and not answer the phone when they call! I know I’m not alone in feeling like this.
I hope to start a support group in the fall. Not sure if I’m going to do it as an ‘in-person’ group or telecall.
I’d love to chat with you about it some day.

Best Regards,
Pamela

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Mira August 4, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Hi Pamela-
I just worry that my mom is taking some of the best years of my children’s life from them. I am preoccupied, overwhelmed and stressed, especially when she’s around. So how do my children suffer? Sure she wont be around forever but she sure is here during the formative years! I am certainly having a hard time seeing it calmly and not feeling it’s unfair that my dad died and left me in charge of her. I guess I haven’t accepted it still. A year and a half later. I suppose at some point, I will.

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Pamela August 9, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hi Mira-
I think a lot of us worry that our kids will suffer because we take so much time taking care of our parents. I can certainly relate to your stress and preoccupation. All we can do is take each day as it comes and know what our limits are. We want to do the best for everyone, AND we can only do so much. You have triplets plus one, so you have your hands full.
I would be happy to talk to you about coaching if you think that might benefit you. Also, Heather Mundell, who also commented on this post, coaches moms in the sandwich generation and she might be a great resource as well.

I enjoyed reading your blog. Just know that you’re not alone!
Pamela

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