Managing your place in the middle of the sandwich.

Are you feeling the squeeze of being in the middle of a generational sandwich?

With changing times comes changing responsibilities. Depending on where you fall in your family tree, you could find yourself caring for children, grandchildren and parents while juggling a full-time job and other personal and social commitments. If that’s your life, you’re part of the aptly named sandwich generation — a group of people who are in the middle of responsibilities for aging parents, children and grandchildren.

A perfect life scenario for each of us might include children who leave home after high school or college and don’t need to rely on your health insurance or free rent beyond that. Grandchildren live elsewhere and don’t need anything beyond spoiling from you. And your parents were thrifty savers throughout their lives and they can now afford whatever assistance they might need.

But life is far from perfect. It’s messy. Many Americans have children out of college and in grade school or are raising their grandchildren while they’re also playing landlord or landlady to a parent who can’t afford to live on his or her own. Multi-generational households can offer rich experiences that allow everyone to thrive. But the situation can be extremely stressful for the middle of the sandwich.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), close to half of the population between the ages of 44 and 55 have dependent children and living parents. That’s a pretty big sandwich. But with a big slice of the population comes research and best practices.

If you’re feeling the squeeze of being in the middle of a generational sandwich, take a moment to ease the stress through one of our suggestions below:

Good enough is good enough. We live in a culture that believes in the myth that it’s possible to do it all and do it well. Nothing could be further from reality. Most of the time “done” is better than “perfect.” Frozen pizza for dinner, a purchased Halloween costume for your son or granddaughter and getting your mother to her doctor appointment 15 minutes late is good enough. No harm, no foul, as they say in the sports world.

Schedule self-care first. Women especially have difficulty with this suggestion. But consider one of the rules of air safety: Place your air mask on first before assisting children or aging adults. If you can’t breathe, neither can they. Block out time for sleep (seven to eight hours per night is the recommended minimum), exercise, socialization and hobbies/relaxation and fill in empty spaces with what you can reasonably manage for children, grandchildren and parents. You’re not being selfish, you’re being smart.

Find available help and use it. Check in with a local council on aging that can point you toward resources for aging parents and support groups for the children who care for them. Join or start a car pool for activities your children or grandchildren are involved in. Form a meal co-op with friends or neighbors to maximize time spent in the kitchen. Instead of cooking seven nights a week, cook a larger amount one night a week and swap with six other friends. Even swapping with one other friend will buy you time.

Just say no. A lot of good offers are going to come your way. A lot of bad offers, too. Become selective about saying yes. Would an evening relaxing with your spouse be more enjoyable (and rejuvenating) than time spent in the kitchen doing your part for a bake sale? It’s o.k. to say you’re too busy, you can’t or you have other plans. And it’s o.k. if those other plans are nothing more sitting quietly with a cup of tea.

With focused management, the squeeze you feel as the middle of a sandwich can be a comforting embrace instead of a tightening vice. Start slow and savor each victory toward a lower-stress life. The natural disorder won’t disappear, but you may find that you have found a bit of peace among the mess.


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