Patch Blog: The 'Sandwich Generation'

You are caught between your aging parents and your maturing children. How do you help them both?

My husband and I are part of the new phenomenon called the "sandwich generation". We are caught between our family and our aging parents.  Many of our friends are faced with the same circumstances. What is a person to do with the plights and perils that go along with meeting the needs of our loved ones? 

The answers are not as clear cut as they were for previous generations.  People are living longer.  Better medical care, living conditions and overall quality of life lead to a longer life span in industrialized countries.  It affords us the modern dilemma of independent aging adults within families that may not be ready to take on the responsibility. 

My parents and I have had many conversations about who, what, when, where and why concerning their health and long term care.  My husbands', not so much.  It has given me so much pause to see the reactionary panic that strikes my in-laws every time there is a medical issue on that side of the family.  As I have married into the family, it is not my place to "dispense wisdom" and speak into the situation.  I can, however, offer myself as being of service. 

We live 2,500 miles away from my in-laws.  It has been difficult at times to be at such a distance.  The idea of offering my skills and talents to be available to help is all I can do at times when things are tentative.  I know that there are other family members that are too  obligated to be able to be of any use.  My husband has work obligations, his siblings have their own family to concern themselves with.  We have a dog and our world is relatively transportable in comparison to theirs.  It is only natural that I step in and be the chauffeur, the cook, the nursemaid.  I cannot imagine anyone else doing these things.

Yet, again, it is not my family.  This is the quandary of the "sandwich generation".  What to do to help those that need it most in our world.  How do you help your family?  How are you serving your parents or aging relatives?  What is the best course of action for those in your family?  All of these questions are the thing that faces us today and in the near future. None of the answers are easy.  Food for thought from one volunteer heart to another.

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Nicoline Conway June 20, 2011 at 04:45 AM
Great blog, Heather. My mom is 70 and is very self suffiicent. She does not drive so it's up to my sis and myself to help her. Like you, I can't imagine anyone else helping my mom besides my sis and myself. My mom also has a great support of friends who do drive and help her out. I feel bad for those aged people who don't have anyone to help them. One of the best things to do is to get to know your neighbors and check in on some of these aged people and see where they could use some help.
Paula White June 21, 2011 at 09:46 PM
I have been a Sandwich Mom for 10 years and it is a challenge indeed. You are heading in the right direction by discussing the details of a long distance arrangement before a critical time. I have a blog for Sandwich Generation women that provides information and tips on surviving this very situation. You can check it out at www.simplysandwich.net. Wishing you the best! Paula @ Simply Sandwich
MJ June 30, 2011 at 05:57 PM
My husband and I have been experiencing the pains of being in the middle of the sandwich. On the bottom of the sandwich we have our 11-year old son. He's active in Boy Scouts and has a challenging academic load during the school year. The questions of how much to tell him about what is going on with grandpa w/o causing him to feel overwhelmed & sad. He feels the loss of family time with my husband spending time at the hospital. As a mom, I feel the guilt that my in-law's illnesses are stealing away vital "kid" time from my son. On the top of the sandwich are my husband's parents, both of whom are now in nursing facilities (not in the same city). My father-in-law has been in nursing care since December. I agree with Heather on the challenges of being the spouse and having the sick family member not be your direct relative. You walk the fine line with how much to say both about what course of action to take and how much (or often little) other family members are doing their share. It is also a challenge to know what to say to your spouse to help them to cope mentally and emotionally with what is going on. I look at the toll that it takes on my husband and then worry about how it affecting his health and well-being. I see the reality of the sandwich generation just getting more and more over the next few years as the Baby Boomers continue to age and our generation, having had children later, struggles to deal with the demands from both sides.
Heather Shaw July 14, 2011 at 04:42 PM
I am so humbled to see these comments! Wow. My heart is with everyone. Thank you for sharing your journey with me as well.


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