The Sandwich Generation: 6 Steps for Taking Care of You
As empty nesters, we find ourselves increasingly in the “Sandwich Generation.” We have elderly parents who need our help navigating through memory loss, housing changes, coping with the death of spouse/friends/loved ones, and finding their way through financial red tape. We also have adult children who want us to spend time with them and the grandchildren. Sometimes the needs are heavy in one direction or another, but we often feel pulled in both directions at the same time. Here are some things to remember about taking care of yourself in the midst of this emotional tug of war.
- You do not have to do it all by yourself. Yes, of course, no one else is emotionally invested the way you are, but others are waiting for their chance to bless. Perhaps your spouse can take charge this time. You may have siblings who can help – ask them. Call that sweet lady from church who has been offering forever to bring over a meal. Let the “other” grandparents have this one, and you sit it out.
- Give yourself a moment to disengage. Sometimes in the middle of a crisis, we feel overwhelmed and wonder how we will ever make it through this. Just taking a moment to regroup can be refreshing. Sit down and watch a Hallmark movie with your mom. Call your grandchildren for some Face Time. Lock yourself in the bathroom and play a game on your phone for a few minutes. If they are napping, you lay down for a few minutes, too. Read a chapter of your book. Go outside on the porch for a moment of quiet reflection or prayer.
- If you are the one who lives out of town, you probably deal with guilt on a regular basis. Never underestimate the value of touching base; calling OFTEN allows you to know where the needs are. Praying for your family daily helps to keep things in perspective. When you wish you could feed them, send the pizza delivery guy to their doorstep with a prepaid order (including tip) – especially when your son is working late and your daughter-in-law is home alone with sick kids. Send your parents flowers, or pasta Alfredo from Dominos. True, you are not there, and homemade always tastes better, but at least you are sending your love in a tangible way.
- Give the gift of time whenever you can, but be realistic if you work full time. Take a week of vacation time to assist a parent in rehabbing a joint replacement, or to allow your children to get away for some romance. Drive to their house for a weekend whenever you can, but build in time for yourself to get caught up. You can’t be there every weekend. Sometimes you have to do laundry, pay bills, or shop for groceries.
- Take the time to stay connected to your friends; make a lunch/dinner date with a friend or two once a month. Find the time to browse and post a little on social media; it will keep you from dwelling too much on your own worries. Make time for church; friends who are spiritually invested in you will keep you grounded, and pray for you and your family.
- Never forget to count your blessings! No matter how difficult life becomes, there are always others who are struggling with situations far worse than yours. You have a roof over your head. You have food in your belly. You have family to love, and grandchildren to bounce on your knee and spoil. You can get out of bed, shower, and dress yourself. You have a car to get yourself places. You have a God who loves you unconditionally!
The Sandwich Generation is not a place for the weak-minded! It’s a hard place to be, and sometimes it just plain hurts. But there are also many blessings during this life season to celebrate and cherish. Make memories together. Use this time to learn about your parents’ lives when they were young. You are ready to hear those stories now, to listen to them (perhaps again and again) with adult understanding. Use this time to start new traditions with your children and grandchildren, as you begin to phase out traditions of the past that no longer make sense. Take a cue from breaking up your parents’ household, and purge your own cluttered life. The journey of life is a circle, and it’s just a heartbeat away until your children are taking care of you!