The “sandwich generation” has a particular challenge: managing aging parents at the same time as they are raising small children. And usually, working full- or part-time is thrown into the juggling act, too. In past generations, this was not so much of an issue, primarily for two reasons: people did not live as long, and women had their children at a younger age. Today, people’s life expectancy is longer than ever, and women are often waiting until they are well into their 30s to have kids.
Here are some of the specific challenges the sandwich generation faces, and some suggestions on how to cope.
1. Marriage strain
Young children or aging parents alone can be a strain on a marriage; but with both in the mix, it’s really hard to find time for each other. Husbands and wives may feel like their spouse is neglecting them, and feelings of frustration and jealously may surface.
2. Financial strain
The cost of caring for aging parents and small children can be astronomical. The sandwich generation is faced with both of these high costs at once. If your parents have not planned financially, it can be even tougher to find resources.
Children and spouses may feel resentful if you spend “all” your time with an aging relative. Resentment can get even worse if the aging parent(s) moves in with the family. And you might feel resentful if your siblings aren’t helping you with your elderly parents.
While the fact remains that being in the sandwich generation is stressful, there are some coping strategies you can try.
1. Finding balance
It’s important to try to find a place of balance. That means that you will have to give up a bit of everything while taking on a bit of everything. In other words, don’t put all your resources in one basket; you can’t spend every waking moment with an aging parent, nor can you spend every moment with your kids and spouse. So it’s healthy to understand that sometimes, the needs of one of these groups will have to wait while the other’s needs get met. If you do this on a sort of rotational basis, it can be helpful; it’s easier for others to wait if they know that you are coming eventually.
2. Don’t leave yourself out
As you work toward balance, don’t leave yourself out. Your personal resources can get depleted as you find yourself torn between generations. Yes, sometimes your needs to have to wait, just like everyone else in the situation; but your needs should not have to wait indefinitely.
3. Share the burden
Only too often, it’s one person who is shouldering most of the family responsibilities. To help yourself cope, it’s important to delegate. Even if you have to fly your aging relative to stay periodically with family members in other parts of the country, or have family come in from out of state to help, something must be done to share the burden.
If family help is out of the question, ask people in your community, church, or work place if they can help. No one knows you need help if you don’t ask.