The Sandwich Generation

This is the third post in a four-part series on grandparents.

The phone rings at the crack of dawn, which has never been a good thing.  On the other end of the line, I hear my mom’s weak voice, “I am so sick …”.  I think of her alone in the house, on the other side of Toronto.  We have just left my dad in the hospital late last night after he passed out at the bank.

I scramble to get myself awake and try to think clearly.  My parents need me…I am an only child …there is no one else for them to call.  Other relatives live too far away or are too elderly themselves to assist.  I start to think through the morning schedule.  Can my husband get our girls off to school?  This will mean he will be late for work…hopefully he doesn’t have an important meeting first thing!

This all happened about ten years ago. Since then, my husband and I have gradually taken on increasing responsibility for our four parents, as they reached their eighties and nineties and their health declined.  At the same time, our girls passed through their teen years, and I am happy to say, the passage was relatively smooth!  Nevertheless, we were living the sandwich generation.  Now with our daughters being young women, our sandwich is more of the open-faced variety, and they have been very helpful in supporting us and their grandparents.

According to Statistics Canada, a quarter of us aged 45-64 are experiencing the sandwich generation.   It is not easy reversing roles and becoming a parent to your parents.  Gradually, and sometimes suddenly, we need to take on decisions about suitable housing for them, sale of their home, getting them to doctor’s appointments, supporting them through surgeries and hospitalizations, taking care of bill payments and banking.  I was so fortunate that my parents agreed with me that we needed to move them closer to me and into a retirement home where they could get the assistance they needed.

As many of us baby boomers come from smaller families, and more of us have had our children later, we are more likely to have young children while at the same time having parents who require our assistance.  A quarter of the sandwich generation care for two or more parents.  Women spend more than twice as much time as men do on elder care, since women tend to take on more frequent and time-consuming tasks such as personal care, meal preparation and clean-up.  One third of care givers have had to change their work schedule or reduce their hours.

Most of us find this stressful, particularly when parents need a lot of care.  We may be forced to weigh their needs versus those of our children – who needs us more?  We are distressed when our parent is ill and in pain, and if we haven’t before, we inevitably face our own aging.

If you’re wondering where to start, here are some tips to get you thinking:

  • Communicate.  Start initiating the important “what if…” conversations with your aging parents and also with your own immediate family. Keep in mind your children may notice changes in their grandparents’ health and need the opportunity to discuss their concerns or questions with you.
  • Advocate. Link to various community services to help manage the stress of caring for your parents.
  • Accept offers of help.   Meals, running errands, and babysitting can help decrease your workload and stress.  Even your aging parents may be able to help out and do some simple chores like folding laundry.
  • Get your kids involved. Depending on the age of your child(ren), ask them to help with housework, or make part of a meal for grandma or grandpa, or if they’re young, maybe just make a card or craft etc. It’ll make them feel engaged, involved and good about themselves for helping others!
  • Delegate. Make sure to schedule in some much needed time for yourself. This could be something as simple as curling up with a book, or getting out of the house and meeting up with some friends.

Just as for young parents, it is so important that those of us in the sandwich generation care for ourselves.  I have found it very helpful to share experiences and ideas for coping with my friends and colleagues who are living this stage at the same time.  If you feel the need for additional support, many workplace Employee Assistance programs offer expertise around these issues.  And as with all parenting concerns, you can dial 311 to speak with a public health nurse on our HaltonParents information line.

Share your experience:

For more information about living the sandwich generation, or to share your experience, there are many ways you can talk to one of us directly:

  • Leave us a comment below – we’d love your feedback
  • Talk to us on Twitter: @haltonparents
  • Email us at haltonparents@halton.ca
  • Call the HaltonParents line for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About this guest blogger:

Sue Gierszewski is a Public Health Nurse in the Early Years Health Program.  Much of her work focuses on breastfeeding, including coordination of the work of the Halton Breastfeeding Connection, a group of volunteer mothers who provide telephone support to breastfeeding women.  Sue also facilitates a Calling New Parents group in Oakville. She is the mom of two grown children, and daughter of parents aged 87 and 94.  The family just lost her husband’s parents in the past few months.

This entry was posted in Grandparents, Parenting and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Sandwich Generation

  1. Dmom says:

    I think that the hardest part is the guilt… feeling that you’re not doing enough for either your parents or your children. It doesn’t help when your parents are guilt tripping you too! Forums and posts like this are helpful to make you see that you are not alone in going through this, and that you also have to think of your own self care, or else you’ll be useless to those you care for.

    • corinneberg says:

      Thanks for the positive feedback and for taking the time to read the blog. Happy that you found it a helpful reminder to take care of yourself as well.

      Corinne on behalf of Halton Parents.

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