I asked Chat GPT for a blog topic on being the sandwich generation and the title of this blog is what it came up with. I had to chuckle. Survival?? Am I even surviving right now? Writing this, I am drinking my third coffee of the day, with Google open to figure out why Dad’s iMessage isn’t working. My kids are fighting over who gets the ‘adult’ bowl for their snack and who is stuck with the scratched plastic one from IKEA that is very clearly two kids’ old.
Maybe I should be thankful Chat GPT didn’t suggest “Thriving in the Sandwich Generation” because today, I certainly am not.
But surviving, I am. I am breathing, I have brushed teeth and I’ve had water today. When I was in the early throes of post-partum, that was what a friend said constituted a win each day. I had to complete one of eating, brushing my teeth or showering – I didn’t have to do all (thank goodness because just one felt herculean when I hadn’t slept all night) but just tackle one.
Today, my father is resting comfortably on his couch, feet up and Big Bang Theory on in the background. My kids, though fighting, are fed and well. And like I said, I’ve brushed my teeth.
So how does this happen? How do we survive this stage of juggling parenting and elder care?
1. Demand help
Notice I didn’t say ask. I hate, despise, loathe asking for help. There’s got to be a way that I can do it all. Isn’t that what all the books say? Women can have it all. Though I would add, not all at the same time. And frankly, we can’t do it all by ourselves. There may be that unicorn person who is a single parent, looks after their parents with full-time needs, who also runs a million dollar company, and who has two well-adjusted, non-picky children and does it without daycare, family or a nanny. (If anyone knows this person, send them my way – I have questions!)
But in reality, very few of us (if any) can do this without help. And sometimes, asking feels like too much. So we shrink back and we don’t ask. We struggle to stay afloat and breathe as the waves get high. We let our silence speak for us.
Our silence says we are okay. But in fact, we rarely are.
So instead, what if we went in the opposite direction and demanded help. Instead of asking, “Can you take my parent to the doctor?” what if the sentence turned into, “If you are free on Tuesday, I would be so appreciative if you could take Dad to the doctor.”
Or what if we said yes to those offers for help, instead of defaulting to “I don’twant to put you out,” or “We are fine.”
2. Do Your Research
I will be the first to acknowledge my privilege, and my family’s privilege. And, there are a lot of options available (at least, where I live) for those that need it. That’s not to say there’s no wait to access them, but it is worth a look.
Research what’s out there to help, especially with your parents. Contact the social workers at hospitals or care homes – they have pamphlets and while old school, they have so much good information. In doing a little searching, we were able to:
3. Bring them together
At first, when I had the kids, I often thought that I had to keep everyone separate. I would find care for the kids so that I could take Dad to his appointments. Or, I’d schedule my social time with Dad after the kids went to bed. I didn’t want to go to his appointments, I can’t imagine how my 2 and 4 year old would want to!
Until one day, it became too hard.
I couldn’t find the babysitter.
Dad was getting lonely. And I was getting frazzled.
So I brought the kids along. And it turns out, they loved it! They got some Grandpa time, they got treats for being well-behaved (I am most definitely not above bribery), and mostly, they got to see love in action.
They got to witness what compassion looks like, what patience in waiting rooms is. They got to see what a love that bears all things means. They got to see what it means to love Grandpa as he is, not as how I wish he would be. And then, there’s also the piece that I hope they do this for me one day. That they could see that this is how we love our family.
How are you surviving these days? What’s keeping things working for you? Tell me in the comments!
I want you to close your eyes and think about the best sandwich that you have ever eat. No, I mean it, I'm not kidding. Close your eyes and think about that sandwich. What did it taste like? What did it have on it? What did it make you feel?
Let me tell you about my best sandwich. It is a spectacular turkey and vegetable sandwich on pumpkin cranberry bread made at a local deli close to my house. (Moreno's Market for all those in the Lower Mainland....#notsponsored but dang, if they did I'd happily accept!) The bread is fresh, with an inside so soft and a crust that is just the right amount of crispy. It is thick and full and delicious. The meat has got to be a couple hundred grams of turkey on one sandwich. Finely shaven, beautiful, deli turkey that I swear has some sort of honey in it or maybe some crack - that's how delicious this is. Then there's this pile of veggies. Think tricolored peppers and onions and lettuce and tomato that still has beads of water on it from when they were freshly washed and cut. When you take a bite out of this sandwich (IF, that is, you can even remotely fit your mouth all the way around it) it just brings to mind Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every possible good memory you could have.
Now, let me tell you what the worst sandwich I ever had. My dad made this for me for lunch for a couple weeks when I was in grade one. White Wonder bread (so you know it is somewhat moist yet tastes like cardboard) slathered on one side with cheese whiz (or as one of my brother's friends used to call it "death in a jar") and the other side was strawberry jam. Squish those two sides together, cut them into triangles and you have an exact replica of the Cheese Whiz and Jam monstrosity that made it into my lunch for a few weeks straight.
That's what life is when you are part of the sandwich generation. It can be turkey and veggie delight, or it can be a sticky mess. And some days it can be a bit of both.
They really is no set way that life in the sandwich generation goes... which makes it all the more frustrating. You can't plan for it, you can't dream of it. You don't know what it's going to be until you're in it.
And for a Type A person like me, that just makes it that much worse. I'm a person with high anxiety. I want to be able to plan for every situation, to understand what's in front of me so that I can get ahead of it.
So that I'm not surprised.
So that I don't let people down.
But when it comes to being in the sandwich generation, you can't plan ahead. You can't live in the past of what was, because it is no longer. You can't live in the future, because there is no way to predict it. And the day-to-day is often sooo not what you expected. So if you don't have the past, present or future tense, all you live usually is tense. And that is no way to live.
You're in this constant state of asking, "What now? What should I do? Did I do the right thing? Maybe I should do it this way? What are they going to think?" The thoughts spin. The questions mount. There is no good way to answer. So, in the state of living tense and in the state of not knowing what to do, we wonder what is next. How can I possibly move on being caught in the middle?
So what do we do? How do we live in the middle? How do we eat more of the turkey sandwich than we do have the cheese whiz version?
It's about trust. Trusting yourself that you know the answers, that you can figure out what needs to happen next.
I remember one of my first experiences of realizing that I was in the sandwich generation. Dad needed to get to a cardiologist appointment and I was 6 weeks postpartum with my oldest son. It was 8:00 a.m. I hadn't slept because of a newborn who wouldn't latch, therefore, wouldn't eat and therefore, wouldn't sleep. And yet I needed to get up, look half decent, and get the three of us to Dad's doctor. I felt like I couldn't function. My mind was starved for sleep. Well, maybe it was starved for coffee but there's only so much coffee that you can have at once.
And I had to figure it out. I had to figure out how to get my sleep deprived, unbathed self and my newborn son (who would never stop screaming) to pick up Dad and get to the doctor. It was the very last thing that I wanted to be doing. Call it guilt, call it 'sense of duty' or whatever title you wanted, I wasn't doing this out of love.
But the love was there. Somewhere deep that I certainly couldn't access in that sleep deprived state. So maybe that's it...even if we enter the sandwich generation kicking and screaming, we stay because of love. Sure, some days we stay out of duty but take a look, it's usually out of love. And I trust that love always hopes, and never fails.
What part of you do you trust? Maybe your ability to figure things out, maybe it's your calmness under pressure? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
PS If you want to read the story about how I became a part of the sandwich generation, check out my new book, "God Give Me Faith" available for on my website or Amazon.