Take a Deep Breath
The Dilemma of the Sandwich Generation
The term Sandwich Generation was first introduced in the early 1980’s (1981 according to Wikipedia). It refers to the generation of people who take care of both their aging parents and their children. It is a great term that accurately describes what it feels like to be that person…trapped between to slices of bread. Whether it’s peanut butter, sliced meats, or something fancy, it’s the stuff that holds the slices together, that makes it work. And let’s face it, without it, we would just have bread.
Being stuck in the middle can take its toll, often affecting a caregiver’s emotional, physical, social and financial needs. The population is generally living longer and therefore elderly care is required as they age. Meanwhile, people are starting their families later and young adults tend to stay at home longer in order to try to build their financial independence. There is a greater overlap of care needs and that Sandwich Generation is getting squeezed more and more. This new reality has become so prominent, that the most serious consulting groups and news outlets have published stories about it and what it really means face it.
Just like squeezing a bottle, if the hold is too tight, something will burst. Hey, it has to come out somewhere…that kind of pressure needs a release somehow. When you are that sandwich generation, you need to find a way to control that squeeze or you will burst. Here are some ideas to avoid that burst.
“Just like squeezing a bottle, if the hold is too tight, something will burst. Hey, it has to come out somewhere…”
You may find yourself forgetting to breathe (no joke). As our stress and anxiety levels increase, we tend to hold our breaths. So breathe, take deep breaths, take long breaths. It can help you relax. If that doesn’t work then try breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose. It will definitely shift your focus for a bit. I have no coordination, so it kept me amused for quite a bit….sort of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Try it!
# 2: Plan
Not making a decision or just “waiting to see what happens” is like putting a bandaid on a cut that needs stitches. It won’t get better and you will eventually have to take care of it properly. So make a plan and decide how much you can handle, what are your limitations and also, it is important to decide what will be the warning signals for you and your loved one so that the next steps are taken.
# 3: Don’t look back
There hardest part is not to question ourselves on the decisions we’ve made. “If I had done this instead of that” is not something you want to contemplate and adds no value. In fact, it takes away from your ability to look forward and find appropriate solutions. It brings about guilt and other negative feelings. Looking back on the “should haves” is like driving a car – you can’t drive by looking at your review mirror. You need to keep your eyes on the road and see what’s ahead.
# 4: Limitations
Everyone has their limits and they are different. We can only do what we can. Remember that even though you can do more, it does not mean that you should do more. Be kind to yourself: There is no shame in respite care. If a plane is going down, you have to put that oxygen mask on yourself first in order to be of any help to the others.
# 5: Pieces of you
People close to you are going to want a piece of you. It may be because of habit or they may want to help (whether you want it or not!). There is a subtle selfishness in the latter. When people keep insisting on helping or being there for you, it is no longer about you. It’s about them. That’s a tough one because their intentions are good but, in reality, it’s about their needs and not yours. When you are living those difficult moments, make sure that the energy you spend is going to really help you and not what others think should help. There are only so many pieces you can give before you are completely broken.
And finally #6: Talk to yourself!
My favourite place to talk to myself out loud is when I’m alone in the car. I don’t feel like I look crazy because nowadays, everyone is talking in their cars. It actually looks like I have important business to deal with (and I do…my thoughts). Talking out loud is the absolute best! I give myself some pretty good advice that way. I even have the pauses perfected, sort like someone is talking back to me….ok, so maybe I’m a little nuts.
We all have to do what is best for us to stay afloat, what makes sense for our well-being. One thing is for sure, it all starts with a deep breath.
Karine Saba, co-founder of Care4giver and more importantly a natural caregiver for parents with dementia for over 10 years.