7 Tips for Coping with Sandwich Generation Stress

sandwich generation picnicby Mike Collins

While a great sandwich can be a delight and a comfort, being a member of the Sandwich Generation can be its own special kind of heaven or a special kind of hell…often at the same time. If you have children and are also a caregiver for an older family member or friend, you are a member of the Sandwich Generation. According to Today’s Caregiver Magazine, “the typical American Sandwich Generation Caregiver is a woman in her mid-40s, married, employed and caring for her family and an elderly parent, usually her mother.”
Here are seven tips for dealing with the squeeze of Sandwich Generation responsibilities:

  1. You Take Care of You! Believe it or not (and, if you are a typical caregiver, you won’t), you are the most important person in this triangle of you, the one you are caring for and your family. If you fall apart, the triangle falls apart. Look for time for yourself, even short chunks of getaway time. Take twice as long to go to the grocery store and spend some time on your own. Better yet, assign someone else to do the shopping. Take care of yourself, physically. Drink more water! Get extra rest whenever you can, and get a little exercise on a regular basis.
  2. Look at the Big Picture. What’s your situation? What are the ages of your children? What is the condition of the one for whom you are caring? How much can your family do for you? Yes, you’ll get some push back—maybe even from your husband, if you are a wife, but this is a wonderful opportunity to teach responsibility.  How is this having an impact on your finances? Is the health of your loved one static, improving or deteriorating? If things stay the same, what’s your situation in the next 12, 24 or 36 months? How has this situation impacted the life you expected to have?
  3. Hold a Family Meeting. Getting through this time in a positive way depends on communication. Schedule a time to meet, and make sure everyone gets time to offer their opinions. Small children seldom have filters and often speak from their feelings. Some of the greatest truths of the situation may come from the kids. Keep emotions to a minimum, because you’re simply trying to get everyone’s opinion on the table so you can come up with a plan. Then, meet with each person individually to talk about the situation.
  4. Put Your Head on a Swivel. Coaches often tell athletes, especially in football, to “put your head on a swivel,” so they can look around for opportunities and threats. Look around for professional help and available resources. Councils on Aging, caregiver support groups, and Aging Life CareTM Professionals are all available. Talk to people at your church who are in the same situation. Caregivers in rural settings often find it a challenge to obtain professional help, so create as long a list as possible of friends or other family members, churches and social groups that might be of assistance.
  5. Oh, That’s Right, I’m Married. Studies show that the quality of a marriage—plus or minus—can have a huge impact on the caregiver’s stress level. Good marriages see caregiving experiences as ways to grow closer. Stressful marriages see the issue as one more negative thing in a long list. Find ways to separate your marriage from the situation. Carve out a date night, take a weekend off together, look for even one hour each evening you can just be married, not caregiving. The basic mistake spouses make in a caregiving situation is assuming that the other spouse will understand if one can’t focus on the other like before. Perhaps that strategy works in the short term, but after awhile, it wears thin.
  6. Look for the Good Stuff. While it may be a challenge, looking for the lessons, the high points, and the positives in a caregiving situation supports a more healthy way to work through the experience. There are always positive lessons to learn about love, compassion, caring and, yes, humor in caregiving situations.
  7. There Will Be Trying Times. No one’s life is blue birds and lemonade all day, every day. There will be times when things go wrong, people get upset (often for the simplest, seemingly most ridiculous things), doors slam, tears flow and the feeling that “this is just not working,” is the overwhelming emotion. Take a step back. Collect your thoughts, and go back to Step No. 1.