The term “sandwich generation” has been in our vocabulary since 1981, when social worker Dorothy Miller coined the term to describe women in their 30s and 40s who were “sandwiched” between young children and aging parents as their primary caregivers.
Fast forward to 2019. As a population we are living longer. Often we may not start having to help our parents while our kids are still living at home, because our parents might not need help until much later in life than in the past.
Another change is that husbands and sons often help in the caregiving now.
Regardless of those changes over time, the result is often the same: At some point we’ll probably be giving care to aging parents or other loved ones.
What catchy name would we give this situation? Since only two generations are involved, maybe the “open-face sandwich generation”? I know. It’s a reach. But we are like the slice of bread on the bottom, bearing all the weight of the toppings as more ingredients are piled on over time.
Caregiving usually starts small. For example, maybe your loved ones can’t manage their finances well anymore. If you can wrest the checkbook from stubborn hands, you can pay their bills, taking that pressure off them.
If they refuse help, it may still be OK — or become a disaster.
Perhaps the next event is not getting the nutrition they need for good health.
Many of my friends are in this situation. They take meals to a parent several times a week or even daily. And because the parent isn’t leaving the house much, they’re also hungry to socialize. Yet you’ve already worked all day, and you want to get home.
It can be hard to keep your frustration in check when you’re feeling overwhelmed by their needs — often ones they won’t allow anyone other than you to fill.
Maybe the next step is that they refuse to move from their home to a safer place for them to live in their new life situation. Mentally you understand, but it could potentially be dangerous for them to be on their own.
What can be done to ease these situations where you’re providing meals, managing their lives and taking time off work to attend doctors’ appointments — plus live a full life of your own?
If they live locally, their needs are easier to fill but often a bigger demand on you because of proximity and your parents’ expectations.
Do your siblings help? Very often they don’t or won’t — another pressure for you to deal with.
When your parent stops driving is a difficult time for both of you.
And what if you don’t live nearby and are trying to help them manage?
Here’s what has proven to help:
- Create a plan when you first notice problematic changes in your parent or loved one. Talk abut possible solutions while they are still mentally sharp and can make their wishes known. This can be a hard talk to have, but have it anyway.
- Prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Don’t ignore the emotional, physical and possible financial toll these life changes bring you.
- Put the word “guilt” into a cannon and light the fuse. Guilt can motivate us to get things done. It can also destroy our souls. Do what you can to help your parents, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t do everything. Tell them you can’t do it all, and that they must accept help from other sources.
Then stick to it.
It’s not being mean. It’s not being a “bad” son or daughter. It’s keeping you sane and more able to continue helping.
And here’s my final observation: It’s their life. They get to make their decisions in the end, even if you think they’re wrong — unless they are in danger.
So do help out, even if it’s just to find aid for them. Do stay active in their lives, even it it’s only by phone, long distance. Do take an evening, a weekend or a week off to get the rest you need — without guilt.
Most people, including me, agree that we don’t regret doing these things for our loved ones. In fact, it often turns out to be one of the most satisfying experiences of our lives, but often not while we’re in the midst of it.
Do it anyway. Be part of the helping generation.
Susan Crosby is a Lodi author and member of the Lodi Senior Citizens Commission.