10 Ways to Tell You Are a Member of the Sandwich Generation

As someone who is a card carrying member of the Sandwich Generation (well, not literally—there aren’t really cards…yet. But there is a secret handshake), I can tell you that it makes for interesting days. Though I’ve written before about the Sandwich Generation, if you are not familiar with the term, it’s one that describes a person who is raising a child at the same time they are caring for an aging parent. (Can you picture it? It’s like they are the bread and you are the turkey…well, that didn’t sound right. I mean whatever your preferred lunchmeat is…)

For me, it is definitely a major part of my Juggle Struggle.

For you…well, dealing with the challenges of caring for people at opposing ends of the life spectrum may or may not be the situation you are in…yet. But if you have kids and parents in your life, you just may need some examples to help you recognize what that will look like.




Here are 10 ways to tell you are an SGer.

  1. You can easily rattle off both your kid’s and your parent’s birthdates and social security numbers, but when anyone needs yours, you have to really stop and think.
  1. When it comes to technology, you find yourself working to keep up with your kid while trying to teach your parent. The latter typically does not happen easily. You just may hear yourself repeating, “No, swipe here…no, not there, but here” a few dozen times. A day.
  1. Though you can easily put your child in a time-out or grounding, there are many days you wish you could do the same with the other end of the spectrum.
  1. You are bracing yourself for the day your kid gets his driver’s license as well as the day you have to tell your parent that it’s time to do the opposite.
  1. While of course you are a parent to your child, you walk the fine line of caring for your parent without making them feel like a child. How’s that goin’? Yeah, I thought so.
  1. You sometimes have to remind both to think before they speak. You consider adding to the cliché “out of the mouths of babes” to include “and senior citizens.”
  1. You find that you have to repeat what you say to both child and parent. For one because they aren’t listening and for the other because they are hard of hearing. (Can you guess which is which?) Actually, for the parent, often both reasons apply.
  1. Both your child and parent need your help. Both also resist it—and both for the same reason: they want to be independent.
  1. You are well aware that the issue mentioned in number 8 will have dramatically different endings. And so you deal with the emotions of caring for your child, knowing that your responsibility is to prepare him to ultimately leave home—while at the same time caring for your parent…to ultimately go “home.”
  1. Too often you forget to take care of the “turkey”—or whatever lunchmeat you chose to represent yourself. All this does is make it harder for you to take care of the entire sandwich. You know this, but you continually fall short. Something you are very used to doing. That’s okay. Love yourself anyway.

If more than a few of these apply to you, well then consider yourself accepted into Sandwich Generation membership. I’ll be happy to teach you the secret handshake.

In all seriousness, though, if you are someone who might have to face the reality that your parent may someday need caregiving, be brave enough to have the conversation now—or at least well before the time arrives. Both you and your parent will be the better for it.


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The Be All and End All

Go ahead and pull for HOURS of fun!
Go ahead and pull for HOURS of fun!

Stretch Armstrong had his 15 minutes of fame when I was a kid. He was a rubber doll whose claim to that fame was his elasticity. You could stretch him to extremes and he would eventually revert back to his six-pack abs self. I didn’t actually own one, but a friend of mine did. It didn’t take us long to decide—along with probably every other kid who owned one—that we would see if we could stretch poor old Stretch beyond his limits.

It didn’t take long till we met with success.

And you know what lurked inside Mr. Armstrong? Jelly. Well, I don’t know what the official substance was inside of him, but it was certainly jelly-like. It oozed. Poor old Stretch wasn’t invincible after all.

Over the years, I’ve found myself relating to Stretch—I’m sure you can relate, too. The pulling and tugging of life in many different directions leaves me ready to ooze all too often. Of course, if being stretched thin meant I actually was thin, I might be better able to deal with it, but…it really means that I may be one tug away from seeping jelly.

I know I fall into the trap of thinking that if I am not everything to everybody, I will let people down. People I love and care about. And who wants to do that? But if you think about it, not only is this a ridiculous way of thinking, it’s actually a bit prideful. Am I really that awesome that I can do everything for everyone? Pretty heady, don’t you think?

The origin of the phrase “be all and end all” is attributed to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and it has come to mean that if you are the “be all and end all” of something, you are the ultimate—there is no need to look further. Well, if you know anything about dear ol’ Macbeth, things didn’t turn out exactly as he had planned.

In fact, his thinking that he had to be the Be All was his End All.

No, I'm good. Really--I'm good.
No, I’m good. Really–I’m good.

And letting myself be Stretch Armstrong can be my End All, too. While I’m not hoping to assume the Scottish throne, I must come to terms with reality: I am not a superhero. Elastigirl resides elsewhere.

And that is okay.

And for every other person who is being yanked and pulled and tugged…it’s okay for you, too.

This means that occasionally, the word “no” should come out of our mouths in order to make our load more manageable. This means that sometimes people will be unhappy with us because we were not able to do something for them. This means that it is okay to lie down and take a nap when we need one. This means that pancakes for dinner can be an absolutely fine choice when it helps you survive the day’s schedule. This means…that you have permission to give yourself some grace and fall short of what you had hoped to accomplish for the day.

This means you can let yourself off the perfection hook that is a big, fat lie anyway. (More on that another day.)

Maybe what we should do with our Stretch Armstrong bodies is give ourselves a hug—because we could sure use one. Well, now that I think about it, that would look pretty weird. After all, we don’t want to look like we’re making out with ourselves. People would talk.

Maybe instead we should just lighten up and remember that we’re doing the best we can—even when it’s a far cry from where we really want to be. Because being the “be all and end all” isn’t the be all and end all after all.

The Closing Circle

Sandwich GenerationA few months ago I was taking my mom to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby hospital. With her no longer being able to walk for long stretches, I used a courtesy wheelchair to traverse the halls and make our way. In my haste to get on an elevator, I pushed her in forward and the doors closed. When we went to exit, it was hard to maneuver, and a kind woman offered, “It’ll be easier if you back her in next time.” I thanked her and off we went.

Little did I know how that comment would replay in my mind numerous times over the coming months, as my mom was on the verge of a major health ordeal. There would be lots of wheelchairs in our future, and nearly every time I backed my mom into an elevator, I thought of that woman.

Life is funny that way. A little something here or there rings out time and again as it comes into play in a way that you did not expect.

I am both a mom and a caregiver to an aging parent—what I’ve written about before as living in the Sandwich Generation. I deal with my son’s and my mom’s needs on a daily basis. Both are similar—yet at the same time, they are very, very different.

When you deal with a child’s needs, you know that you are equipping them to grow up and move on. But an aging parent is the exact opposite. The journey is not to grow and go, but to support and provide care during the inevitable decline. As a parent, you can measure “success” by seeing your kid go off into the world and make his way in it. I’m not sure how you define “success” in the other realm.

The woman who, when I was sick, used to stand ready with an unwrapped stick of gum for me, after my having to chew a horrid tasting pill (you know, back in the day, before flavored oral meds for kids…) is now the woman who I administer medicine to—including a terrible tasting liquid dose for which I stand ready with an applesauce chaser. Two women exchanging roles.

Merriam Webster defines coming “full circle” as “a series of developments that lead back to the original source, position, or situation or to a complete reversal of the original position.” I am aware that the circle is closing. I don’t mean that about my mom’s life, but rather the role I play in it. The receiver of care is now the giver.

Yet through all of her health struggles, she is still her sassy self. Her physical therapist is captivated by her ability to move her legs as nimbly as she does. (Those lovely 3-diamond legs…Why I couldn’t have inherited those babies instead of her chubby thumbs, I’ll never understand, but such is life). This dynamic—the fact that she is an adult and my mother—adds yet another challenge to the role of caregiver: she isn’t always thrilled to receive from me the help she needs. One might use the word “stubborn” once or twice, among other words, in describing my mother.

But she does indeed need that help. And so a new life chapter is being written day by day.

And just as we make our way, learning what is needed and figuring a new daily routine, I am well aware that it can change in an instant—and will for certain change over time. Nothing will remain as it is. This I know. The one constant is change.

And so I muddle through. Daily falling short, and daily asking for forgiveness and grace. But the beauty, power, and spirit of the circle is not to be neglected…the fullness of life and how it calls us to nurture one another through all seasons is a gift all in itself. Much of it is not easy, but all of it matters.

The Sandwich Generation – If Only It Were as Simple as a Turkey on Wheat

Hold the mayo.I am so representative of the Sandwich Generation that I may as well be salami with a nice slice of provolone. The “Sandwich Generation”—the term that has come into use to describe those of us who are taking care of both children and parents—is a growing reality, and I suspect several of you reading are card-carrying members of this special club. You know you are in this group if someone asks you for your date of birth or Social Security number and you have to think hard because your parent’s or your kid’s numbers come to mind first.

It’s just a fact of life, but some days are more “sandwich-y” than others. Having my octogenarian mom living with us can make for a 3’ submarine sandwich, where some days I’m dealing with “the sick kid shuffle” (you know—the rearranging/redefining you need to do with your day when your child is sick and home from school), while I’m on hold with my mom’s doctor to have test results sent Somewhere Else, trying to deal with a barrage of emails, then there’s that pesky thing called “work,” and the dogs are whining to be let out. (The dogs don’t play an “official” role in the Sandwich, thankfully…they just add color to the situation.) On an average day, it simply means scheduling her doctors’ appointments so they don’t conflict with having to pick my kid up from school or some other activity…just another consideration in the juggle struggle.

Overall, it means seeing to the parent’s well-being in a similar way that you do your child’s. But. There is a big but, my friends (just one T on the big “but”…this time)…It does NOT mean treating said parent AS the child. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. That will buy you a heap o’ trouble. It is an art in which I frequently fall short. Can you relate? An aging parent needs support and care, while at the same time they do not want to admit that they need the support and care because it means they are diminishing in some ways. And trying to find the fine line to walk, wherein you are helping without being too helpful can be like walking a minefield.

A classic rough spot for me is doctors talking to me rather than my mom, though she is sitting right there. For the life of me, I don’t know why doctors don’t have better technique in this respect, but I know I would not like being the third party subject of the conversation while someone looks past me. So I find my diplomacy skills grow, as I redirect the conversation to my mom, while at the same time gently filling in any blanks that she may leave. Even with my diplomacy, though, we often leave the doctor with my mother fuming at being treated like a child…and since her generation doesn’t typically spout off to doctors, guess who gets the ire? Ah, life.

There is so much more to say on this topic, but my intention is not to bore you (really—I mean it). I’m just scraping the surface here because I merely want to say that for those of you going through similar challenges, you are not alone. And sometimes just knowing that helps. Some days you want to just curl up and say “enough,” but we keep on carrying on. Because we have to. And hopefully you have someone in your immediate world who takes care of you now and then. Remember to let them do that for you. And if you feel guilty when, for instance, your understanding spouse (like mine) tells you to go have a girls’ night out, remind yourself that you can’t take care of anyone else if you’ve fallen apart.

So if not for yourself, then for those who depend on you: don’t forget to be a caregiver to yourself, too. 

And for those of you who aren’t officially in the Sandwich Generation, you better buckle your seatbelt because odds are your bumpy ride is right down the road. Don’t worry, though—we who are living this now will try to draw you a map—it’s just that it might have some missed turns, wrong directions, and a few unnecessary detours. It’ll be like a Garmin in need of an update. Hey, what do you expect? We’re doing the best we can.