The Sandwich Generation

––Desire R. James, MSSA, LISW

Little did I know when I wrote this article that I would be in this position sooner than I expected.

Like most others it was a role I assumed by default. I have been the caregiver for my 78-year-old father for almost a year now, and it has had its struggles even though as a professional healthcare provider I am familiar with this situation. Trying to keep someone motivated to live with the cards they have been dealt has been one of the greatest challenges of my life and career.

Holding down a job, running back and forth to check on a hospitalized parent, managing a parent who may be having a hard time completing daily living activities, running errands, providing meals, getting the children to school and their activities, as well as quality time with your spouse, all while trying to maintain your own sanity and health is challenging.

This is the sandwich generation. The members of the sandwich generation are individuals who are responsible for the care needs of their own families who also become responsible for the care of one or both aging parents.

This role is usually assumed by default and is not usually a choice. Traditionally the responsibility falls on women more than men. Unfortunately, the bulk of the responsibility typically falls on one sibling, even when multiple siblings are available. This is a time when either the best or the worse comes out in family members.

Too often personality clashes occur, and old family issues can arise during this time. Caregivers frequently experience exhaustion, guilt, anger, and frustration as they attempt to fulfill one of the most difficult roles of their lives. Though challenging, there are ways to lessen the stress.
Realize that there is help available. Help can be available from health care facilities, associations, and community aging departments–also from informal support sources such as neighbors, friends, families, and churches.

Early on it it is a good idea to have a family meeting to discuss the current and future care needs of the parent. Collaboratively list which care needs must be met, then determine who is willing to meet these various needs. A brother may not be good at providing hands-on care but may be reliable for cutting the lawn or taking out the trash. Another family member may be great at providing meals several times per week, while a neighbor may be a great source for periodic companionship. Even younger children can pitch in and help. It is important to delegate to the person who is most capable of completing a task.

A neutral third party such as clergy, a coach, family counselor, or mediator may help if family members are willing but cannot resolve issues. It is important to resolve family issues, because anger, resentment and bitterness can last long after the demand for care has ended.

Lastly there is hired help. Ask health care providers, churches, organizations, and friends for referrals or suggestions. Check with local and regional aging departments which may be privy to information regarding adult day care, meals on wheels, companion services, and other community resources. There are still kind-hearted people in the world who may be willing to assist if you ask. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

Aging parents may not always comply with suggested care decisions. Remember they tend to do better when they have a routine, and a say in their care. Try putting yourself in their shoes and consider the difficulty of accepting a loss in functioning and independence. The ultimate goal is to help them live the most optimal, highest quality life possible in the least restrictive environment.

Being a caregiver will probably be the toughest pair of shoes you will ever wear. So, don’t forget the importance of self-care or you may find your own health in jeopardy. Pace yourself. Pay attention to your emotions and stress level. This can be a wonderful time to reminisce and really become close to your parent(s) in their final years.

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