By Christy Yates, Author of “Building a Legacy of Love: Thriving in the Sandwich Generation”
Christy is an expert in supporting caregiving families, incorporating mindfulness along with other evidence-based practices to support growth, goal achievement and a pathway to overall wellness for the whole family. She is a Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP), an author, speaker and coach in California. She retired in 2021 after 20 years as a school psychologist. Follow Christy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Your meeting ran a bit late, but you check the time and see you still have enough time to pick up the kids from school and get the oldest to soccer practice. Your cell rings. Your father’s been taken to the Emergency Room. Next, you get a text from your spouse. The freeway is packed. You’re on your own until after 8pm.
Welcome to the Sandwich Generation.
This was me between 2010 and 2015. My children were in middle school and then high school while I helped manage the care of my parents, both of whom had some form of dementia, all while I worked full time as a school psychologist. I was lucky. My husband worked from home so I had significant, flexible help. But this isn’t always the case.
The latest figures from Pew Research Center (September 20, 2022) indicate that over 54% of Americans in their 40s are squeezed between raising kids and caring for aging parents. So what’s a sandwiched parent to do when it feels like it’s all crashing in?
What I learned to do was to ask for help and build a support team. I also discovered how beneficial this was for my children to witness.
When it became apparent that I needed more help than just myself and my husband, I knew I needed to build my team. When my son was old enough to drive both himself and his sister to school, that helped out a lot. He felt useful and adult. However, there were always times they both went in different directions after school. If my husband couldn’t be available, I had a list of other parents I could call.
These weren’t necessarily all my besties. Many times these were the mothers of kids in the same programs as my kids. I had frank conversations about what was going on, which did not come easy to me – but what I found was that once I opened those conversations, I learned about the challenges other families were facing. There were times I could be there for others. Give and take. Mostly I encountered people who were quite willing to help. People like to help! But for whatever reason, I feared rejection and felt I had to do it all myself.
Think about it. Do you like to help others? Does it feel good to be of service when someone needs you? Many studies indicate that acts of kindness release feel good hormones — endorphins and oxytocin — that not only give us a “helper’s high,” but actually help reduce blood pressure aiding in heart health. Kindness is contagious, too, whether we’re the givers or receivers. So in asking for help, we can actually be providing others with opportunities to feel really good!
Asking for help doesn’t mean giving a lot of details or making “the ask” sound heart-wrenching. This sandwiched phase is normal life and most people can relate. Building and strengthening relationships can benefit us and others in many ways. Here are some tips for building a team of support.
- Get neighbors’ phone numbers. These may be folks who can help out with pet needs or retrieving packages at your door. And you can do likewise.
- Introduce yourself to other team/activity parents. If your child is on a sports team or other group, chances are you can share the load. If there isn’t a parent roster provided, either lead that effort and get one done or ask the coach/facilitator for one.
- Get phone numbers for a parent of your child’s friend. I found most parents were relieved I suggested this action and readily provided a contact number.
- When you do share about your needs, be clear and factual. “My parents are older, (have an illness, have dementia, etc.) and there may be times my child needs a ride. Would that be okay? I’m happy to reciprocate.”
- Talk to your work family. Are there colleagues that might be able to support you if needed? If necessary, talk to Human Resources about the Family Medical Leave Act. Get the information before you need it and hope that you won’t.
As you start identifying your team, a great way to connect with them and share only certain information with certain people is to invite them to Kith + Kin. You can use the app to organize and store info like soccer game schedules, contact sheets, and other useful information.
One of the byproducts of building a support team is that it can alleviate the stress of “what ifs.” Sandwiched parents often need to consider the future and some of the focus is on heavy stuff. Holding it all inside takes a toll. Learning how to ask for help is a skill you can continue to master, and is one you can teach to your children.
For more information and support for the life in the sandwich generation, visit www.christyyates.com