Sandwich Generation: Mindfully Managing Yourself, Your Child and Your Marriage while Caring for Aging Parents

by Mindful Mothers Marin

The Sandwich Generation refers to people in their 30s-60s that are bringing up their own children, as well as caring for their aging parents. With last month being National Sandwich Month (yum!), it seems like a good time to open a discussion about the joys, pressures, challenges and concerns for us - the Sandwich Generation. We hope you will join us on Thursday, September 28th from 7-8:30pm in the Corte Madera Town Center - Community Room where we’ll dive into these points and more!

One thing that is for certain, though, as a member of the Sandwich Generation it is important to find ways to effectively manage our stress. Incorporating good self-care habits, while meeting the needs of others, is essential to avoiding burn out. The Family Care Giver Alliance research states that 66% of caregivers are female, the average caregiver is 49 years of age and female caregivers spend 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.

Here are some helpful self-care tips:

1)    Make self-care a priority! If you don't take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others. We put our oxygen mask on first for a reason! Make a list of what you need to stay balanced and healthy. Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself, take days off from caretaking and take breaks daily.

2)    Share the load. No one can go at it alone. Share the load of caretaking with family members, friends, your community and other caregivers. Dealing with an aging loved one can be difficult and finding others to share in the caregiving will allow you time to recharge and tend to other areas of your life.

3)    Take care of your body. If you are dealing with a lot of stress it is even more important to focus on staying physically healthy. Make sure to get adequate sleep, eat healthy meals and exercise. By focusing on your health, you will be able to be more positive and you will have more energy to deal with daily stressors.

4)    Get emotional support. Communicate a lot! This is not the time to bottle things up or shut down. You may be feeling a variety of mixed emotions at this time. Dealing with this new role is difficult - it is important to find someone you can trust to share your feelings. When you need added support, reach out to friends, your spouse or a therapist.

5)    Make your family a priority. Caring for aging parents can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. It is important to set boundaries and limits on what you commit to while caregiving. Make sure to spend quality time with your kids and spouse. And speaking of your spouse…..

6)    Don't forget your spouse and your marriage. Caring for aging loved ones can take a toll on your marriage but it doesn’t have to. Preparation, teamwork and ongoing communication are some tools you can use to maintain a happy marriage. Make a plan together on how to care for aging loved ones and the kids. Make time for romance. Don't sweat the small stuff. No one can do it all! Do the best you can together and continue to support each other.

As shown above, ultimately one of the best ways to practice self-care is to keep our family healthy and intact. Raising our children, while knowing that we are likely to be the ones carrying the load of taking care of our aging parents, can be daunting. One thing to keep in mind is that fostering self-care in our children is directly related to increasing their self-awareness, self-control and self-compassion. Here are some ways to share self-care skills and tools with our children:

1)    Be a good role model by practicing balance in your life and healthy habits. Children watch us carefully. Self-care is imperative to model as it’s an important part of a child’s development. When they see their parents taking care of themselves, it fosters this important ‘stepping-stone’ towards a child’s own independence and autonomy! Simply put, self-care skills lead to higher executive functioning skills. They are one of the first ways that children develop the ability to plan and sequence task performance, organize the necessary materials and develop the refined physical control required to carry out daily tasks (for example: putting on socks, opening toy containers, completing easy puzzles or clearly stating their needs). Modeling and showing a child the ‘how to do’ self-help tasks will support a child feel more at ease with attempting a big task ahead.

2)    Set boundaries. Setting clear expectations and learning to say ‘no’ are great ways to model boundaries! Teaching our children to understand that they have to wait for our attention helps them learn tolerance. Please also be aware of not overbooking yourself or your child. Setting boundaries to take care of yourself models for our children that they too need to put themselves first and not overextend or overwork. Don’t allow others (that includes any kind of screen time!) to interfere with the time you set aside for yourself or the time you set aside for your family. All of your other responsibilities will be there when you’re done! There’s only one you and you only have one family - value yourself and them enough to set boundaries.

3)    Plan ahead. Not just in terms of giving yourself and your child a little room to slow down and be mindful, but plan ahead to help your child help themselves. Don’t step in too soon as your child is completing tasks. Support them early on by breaking the task down, being playful and modeling respect while you nurture their independence. Set yourself/your child up for success! Mastering skills like getting dressed is far easier and has a higher success rate when a child is putting on sweatpants, a t-shirt and slip-on shoes versus jeans with zippers, a shirt with buttons and laced shoes.

4)    Remember, love is a verb. Be affectionate, positive and generous with your praise. Be clear with your expectations but also with the notion that learning is powerful and mistakes are an opportunity to learn and move on. Praise and applaud efforts. At times mastering self-care skills may be difficult, but if not open to working on a new skill, a child may get stuck and limit other life experiences. For example, if a child is not comfortable using a toilet outside of the home, they may have great difficulties taking part in sleep-overs, school excursions, etc.

5)    Finally, but most importantly, be mindful… attentive… forgiving/apologetic … present for your loved ones. Having an informal mindful practice means being intentional in our actions, words and behaviors. If we can practice being intentional, we model remaining in control of our emotions and ourselves. Our emotions don’t have to control us! Any chaos that is happening, simply happens around us. The more we as primary caregivers are emotionally grounded, regulated and responsive, the more those around us can remain regulated….decreasing reactivity and impulsivity. What a gift for our children!

Self-care is just one tool that is imperative towards navigating as part of the Sandwich Generation! We hope you’ll join us as we continue the conversation on September 28th. Happy Summer!