The Sandwich Generation.
It’s been said life is like a sandwich—the more you add to it, the better it becomes. But that was before the Sandwich Generation came along, a cohort of overextended midlifers who would prefer less, not more.
With parents living longer and children delaying the transition from adolescence into the “emerging adult” life stage (some social scientists suggest this now lasts till age 35) there are a lot of us who are caregiving those older and younger than us, while also trying to eek-out a living and a life for ourselves. I’d estimate this is one of the top three modern midlife challenges we hear at MEA.
The statistics speak for themselves. Today, there are an estimated nine million Americans who care for both their children and older adults, mainly aging parents. Two-thirds of these individuals have jobs, and on average, work 36 hours a week while devoting 22 hours a week to taking care of their parents or kids. With a dwindling caregiving workforce (especially with more stringent immigration laws), this has become a messy American sandwich.
I get it. For four years, I was one of the primary caregivers for my long-time meditation teacher, Salliji, who, in her late eighties, suffered a stroke. I was also taking care of my adult foster son, Damien, who was going through a deep emotional depression in his thirties, often living on my living room couch. Unlike many “Sandwichers,” I could afford care for both (although neither wanted it), but it was still one of the most stressful periods of my life.
Based on my experience and what I’ve learned from others, here are four ways to alleviate stress during this challenging time:
- Schedule at least one “timeout” period per week (minimum of three hours) when you know you can recharge without having to be in a caregiving mode. Allow yourself to look forward to this island of spaciousness, whether it’s simply getting a massage, watching a movie, or going for a walk in nature.
- If you can, don’t do it alone. I had friends help me with both Salliji and Damien, whether it was taking them for a meal or just sitting and talking with them. It makes a difference.
- See if your employer is open to you working remotely for a day or two a week, especially if you have a long commute. Freeing up your time will ease your stress dramatically.
- Remind yourself that your situation isn’t forever. Right now, you’re earning big “karma points,” which will hopefully be repaid to you later in life.