10 tips on how to manage being ‘The Sandwich Generation’

Oh my, how life is different these days. In conversing with my Mother, I find myself biting my tongue as she expresses how today’s happenings are not good. Things were better before. Both parents working, children being sent off to daycare, families eating out too often not to mention the issues with today’s technology and how it’s not right. All this while she calls me to ask if I could fix Facebook on her I pad that she didn’t want but can’t seem to leave.

Yes! things are very different and I don’t know why they wouldn’t be. Remember Elvis and his evil hip swings or how discrimination was so prevalent. A woman’s place was in the home and when company came over the men sat while the ladies relocated to the kitchen. Dad’s weren’t allowed in the delivery room and the doctor probably came out smoking as he delivered the great news “It’s a boy!”. None of it was ok – it just was for the time.

About 7 years ago I found myself smack dab in the middle of a Sandwich situation, albeit I didn’t know what it was called. My father had become ill with cancer, I was in the middle of my career and my children were in high school. My wife and I had to both work (despite what my mother thinks!) our children had school, basketball, dance, homework and all the teenage issues any family experiences. My father’s illness was progressing and he continually called me to come and help him, stay with him, lay next to him. Mom, well Mom is always happy to see her son, so she would always offer to make soup, as if that would make all things better.

It was like an episode of ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’.

However there was a problem developing – How much of this could I take, how much could my wife take. My father had been ill for several years prior to this time but time was running out. I was sandwiched! It was more like a ‘Club House Sandwich’, Three layers of ‘What now?’: Home life – Parents – Work.

Today’s middle aged parent finds themselves in this situation more often. Our parents are living longer thanks to many medical advances and medications. I’m not sure if this is good or bad as we alter nature’s natural progression but it would be nice to age healthy! Our children are staying in school longer and experiencing high debt issues, all the while my home value continues to increase and prevent my children from ever buying their own home!

[Assisting one’s ailing parents or parents-in-law is a self-evident responsibility for many people. However, different constraints on time and resources may make this an onerous responsibility. The majority of caregivers are employed—often full-time.3 Also, even though their own children may be teenagers or young adults and therefore require less attention, it is increasingly common, as fertility extends to more advanced ages, for caregivers in their forties to still be responsible for young children.]4

This is the new age of the Sandwich Generation, and because many of the caregivers are young Baby Boomers or post Baby Boomers, our parent’s generation is the largest group passing thru, and this group all had children – there’s lots of them. It’s important that the sandwich caregiver prepare for these times. Prepare your children in understanding finance and the importance of independence and how you might need help caring for…. Prepare your parents by having the conversation early. Talk about the Will, their intentions, location of important documents and finances. The more prepared you are the better you can handle a situation. I’m not suggesting it won’t be without its difficulties, rather easier. You’ll thank me afterwards. I’ve witnessed the chaos families go through when a parent passes. You will be inundated with funeral plans, speaking with distant family members, cleaning out rooms and managing the surviving parent. You won’t have time to grieve for your loss!

[This study focuses on individuals aged 45 and over whose parent or parent-in-law is the primary receiver of care, that is, the person to whom they have devoted the most time and resources in the past twelve months because of a long-term health problem or physical limitation. The term ‘care receiver’ or ‘care recipient’ will be used to designate these persons. Data for the study are drawn from the 2007 General Social Survey (GSS) on the family, social support and retirement.] [http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-008-x/2010001/article/11072-eng.htm]

10 tips on how to manage being in the Sandwich Generation

  1. Care for yourself first: If you have ever flown, the flight attendants always tell you to care for yourself FIRST then your child. You are useless if you cannot perform care duties (parents or children).
  2. Delegate: At first you will want to do everything. This will lead to caregiver burn out and lead to #1. Delegate smaller jobs – get your siblings to help, ask your church or neighbours, your children will be happy you asked them to help. The worst is they say no!
  3. Keeping family posted: This can be very taxing on you. ‘How are they today?’ ‘What’s moms blood pressure numbers’, ‘you should call my… he can work wonders’. People’s intentions are mostly good however you will not have time to manage all of the requests and updates. Try #2 and send out a daily or weekly email describing progress and thanking for their concerns. Get rid of negative people – they will always hold you down.
  4. Speak with your HR department or Boss: I would hope your place of employment can recognize your situation and perhaps offer time off or reduced hours. Even being able to work from home would save stress on commuting and daily preparation for work.
  5. Prioritize: A visit to the Emergency room always finds you being triaged. How severe is your situation. Triage! What needs to be done and what can wait. I don’t mean what you want to do, rather what NEEDS to be done.
  6. Talk with a friend: This is typically more difficult for men but you should set up some ‘coffee’ time with a good listener friend. This friend is not a gossiper, or talks about themselves. A good listener, that’s it! You will feel better knowing someone knows your situation.
  7. Breathe: Stop often and take 3 deep breaths. I know it sounds silly, but it actually works.
  8. 3 second rule: Our patience will begin to run short. Yelling at the kids, your spouse or parents will not make anything easier. Now is not the time to prove you’re right. Before you respond to what someone says, take it in and count to three! This will give you just enough time to decide if your response is beneficial, useless, aggressive or will simply raise your blood pressure! 1…2…3…
  9. You can’t do what you can’t do: Know your limits, you’re not an expert in everything, so don’t try to be. Just because you constantly win Trivial Pursuit doesn’t make you a know it all! Know when to ask for help. There is no template on raising YOUR children or caring for YOUR parents.
  10. Take it one day at a time: Do not worry yourself with what might happen 6 months down the road. Yes you should have a ‘what if plan’ but you should not dwell on what has not yet happened. Start today and end today. Break your tasks into sizable chunks. It makes it easier.

These tips and scenarios are that of Paul Cutajar. Founder of The LifeStyle55 Real Estate Network, focused on implementing  programs for Mature clients . Combining Master Accredited Senior Agents  REALTORS®, Financial Advisors, Professional Care givers, Sell n Stay programs and Affordable Housing for Seniors.  www.TheLifeStyle55Network.com