One of the greatest challenges we grandmas face today is finding enough time for all the important people in our lives. Sometimes it feels like we’re being sandwiched between the generations with demands from all sides: taking care of our aging parents, helping our adult children and babysitting our grandchildren.
The term “sandwich generation” has been around since 1981 when it was first coined by social worker Dorothy Miller. She was originally referring to younger women in their thirties and forties who were taking care of their children, but also having to meet the needs of their parents, employers, and friends.
We grandmas fall into our own category called the “club sandwich generation.” Author Carol Abaya, M.A. came up with this term in the 1990s for those of us in our 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
I’m part of the “club sandwich generation” with a 92-year old mother and three granddaughters. For the past ten years, I’ve juggled my roles pretty well. Every time I made the two-hour drive to visit my two granddaughters, I brought my mom along so she could enjoy her great-granddaughters. The extra effort was worth it because all four generations have gotten to know each other and enjoy spending time together.
But last year things got more complicated. My third granddaughter was born and visiting her requires air travel. On the other side of the sandwich, my mother has gotten more fragile and is not eager to travel — even by car to visit her older two great-granddaughters. Suddenly, I feel like my juggling act has been ramped up a few notches as I try to squeeze in visits to everyone.
Dealing with all these multiple expectations can be exhausting and requires enormous stamina, patience and empathy. Time and energy become critical issues and stress can result in negative health effects.
5 tips for members of the “club sandwich generation”
- Make your own health #1 priority. Build in small bits of time in your day to do things that will help you feel better, such as carving out a few minutes for relaxation, meditation, exercise, or putting together a healthy meal.
- Connect with friends. Sometimes it helps just to be able to vent to a friend when you’re feeling overwhelmed by all your responsibilities.
- Ask for help. Getting things back under control can require making very tough decisions — things like choosing to get in-home care for your parents, taking leave from work in order to manage a particularly difficult period of time, or having hard conversations with your family about your limitations and need for self-care. Seeking help from a mental health professional can be an excellent place to release stress.
- Check into resources that can help you. There’s a service for many of the responsibilities you must cover, so delegate what you can, such as shopping, cleaning, driving people to appointments, and dog-walking services.
- Know your boundaries. Learning how to say ‘no,’ and understanding what you can say ‘no’ to, and what you can’t takes practice and conscious effort. Your needs and wants are important too. Make sure that you’re not spending all your time taking care of others, leaving no time, energy, or resources for yourself. Becoming too immersed can result in injury, fatigue, illness, and depression.
Try to remind yourself that if you’re caring for an aging relative, it can be an opportunity to talk with her, listen to stories about her life and perhaps re-establish a connection that had been lost.
Communication is important. Encourage all participants — children, caregivers, and parents to talk about their thoughts or feelings surrounding the current support situation. As a care-giver, learning to recognize and vocalize your feelings is important, rather than just agreeing and feeling resentful.