Parenting as a Member of the Sandwich Generation

For the past decade, I have navigated being a working mother, three children under twelve years-old, my marriage, and being the caretaker of a mother with severe, chronic health issues. Despite all my education, including a masters degree in counseling, I have not always felt prepared to handle the multiple demands of juggling the constant and changing needs of my children and my mother. I often feel as if I am not doing enough for them and this guilt weighs heavily on me at times. These complex and multifaceted experiences as caretaker for both my children and a parent make me a member of the “sandwich generation.” As a sandwich generation parent, daily life is often spent being constantly pulled in multiple directions. As difficult as it is sometimes to care for my mother, I know that caring so deeply for and about my parent is vital role modeling for my children about what really matters in life.

Who is Part of the Sandwich Generation?

The Pew Research Center describes those in the sandwich generation as adults taking care of a parent age 65 or older AND children under 18 years old.  A typical week may have me juggling several work meetings, kids PTA activities, and in-person doctor appointments with my mother. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming and as if there is no time on my schedule for my own needs. Over the past decade, I have discovered several strategies that have helped me to not only be the best caretaker I can be for my children and my mother, but how to actually thrive during times when I feel overwhelmed.

Common Responsibilities of the Sandwich Generation Member

Common responsibilities of  “sandwich generation” adults include managing your parent’s finances, finding doctors and specialists for their healthcare needs, transporting them to medical appointments, and securing other higher-level needs including advanced care resources in your home or their home, assisted living residences, or nursing homes.  Sandwich generation adults spend a lot of time getting their parent’s finances in order including looking for insurance policies, medicaid, medicare, and long term care resources. Hiring an attorney to create a power of attorney for me as my mother’s executor was one of my best financial investments. It has saved so much time and decreased my stress in my conversations with doctors and hospitals on her behalf. Sandwich generation adults also pay a significant amount of money out-of-pocket. So, a budget can be very helpful to help keep track of your parent’s monthly expenses.

“Practicing self care is paramount to creating transformational shifts. Be kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself.”

Self-Care for Sandwich Generation Parents

One of my favorite quotes that I think about every day comes from relationship expert Angela Holton. She says, “Practicing self care is paramount to creating transformational shifts. Be kind, gentle, and compassionate with yourself.” This concept helps me focus when I’m stressed and being pulled in multiple directions. As a sandwich generation parent, it is critical for your own well-being to incorporate some form of self-care into your daily life. Some common examples may include napping, reading, exercising, meditation, getting a pedicure, or walking your dog. 

However, I want to offer different ways to think about self-care which are just as important as some of the more common choices. The first is the concept of integrating self-care into your real life. The second is having self-compassion by accepting that you’ll never get it all right. Perfection is not an option, but showing up and being loving is good enough. This means being compassionate with yourself in the moment.

So, when you are on a frustrating call with an insurance company advocating for your parents, give yourself grace. Or when you are with your loved one during a stressful event, remember that you’re both human. For example, during visits to my mom’s nursing home, I always bring her favorite McDonald’s cheeseburger happy meal and we often talk about all the walks we took to McDonalds when I was a child. Sometimes after a long medical appointment, we go get pizza at a restaurant at which the pizza reminds us of New York style. The owners remember us every time we visit and it brings us much joy. There is not always time to schedule self-care activities that require more planning. So, it is crucial that sandwich generation parents integrate daily self-care into their lives. They can also appreciate that they are blessed to be able to support their loved ones during their finite time on this earth. 

It Takes A Village (Social Support)

As a sandwich generation parent, it often takes a village for you and your loved ones to get the support needed to thrive during this time. Seeking out support from other family members, friends, community members, and professionals can be critical for maintaining wellness. One recommendation is to find a lawyer who specializes in needs for aging parents. For instance, you may want to consider getting a power of attorney for your parent(s) to be able to make financial and medical decisions if they become unable to do so for themselves.  Look for social support in unexpected places (ex. church, temple, synagogue, and other friends who may be able to help you). Find an in-person or virtual support group for sandwich generation parents to provide resources and tips to help you continue to manage this role. If you don’t find one, you can consider starting a caregiver support group of your own!

Seeking Help is a Sign of Strength

Being a parent in the sandwich generation isn’t easy. It requires time, resources, and patience. As you continue down the path of caregiving, if you don’t already have a budget, you may want to create one. You may also want to consider establishing an emergency fund and socking away money on a monthly basis if that’s possible. If you find yourself unable to handle everything on your own, ask for help. When life gets too hard, don’t be afraid to ask others in your family and your community for help. Seeking help is a source of strength and not a weakness. As hard as it can be to be a “sandwiched parent,” there are great rewards that come from having both your parents and your children in your life on a regular basis. 

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About Jillian Baker

Dr. Baker has over 20 years of experience in designing, implementing, and translating community driven, evidence-based prevention programs for populations made vulnerable. Dr. Baker holds a Doctorate in Public Health from Drexel University and received postdoctoral training from the Center for Health Equity Research and the National Center on Fathers & Families.

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