Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Sandwich Generation

This image was taken at Chuck E. Cheese in Encinitas, California, where we were having a birthday party for my darling granddaughter Avery, the grand age of two years old. Her mother was suffering from severe morning sickness, and her daddy had a broken ankle, so I got the privilege of spending time playing with her for a couple of long weekends.

I remember long car trips as a child. My father was in the Air Force, and we moved a lot, and at times lived on the other side of the country from where my parents' families lived, so we often were in the car for days at a time. The children would fight over who got to sit in front, so my mother would often sacrifice and take the current baby and sit in the back seat of our station wagon, where no one else wanted to sit. She would have the cooler on one side and the baby on the other, and it seemed she would spend all day making sandwiches for us, sandwiched there in the back seat between baby and cooler.

The Baby Boomer women are now being called "The Sandwich Generation." With life expectancy increasing we have aged parents that often need our time, attention and care. And with the difficulty economy, increased prices of homes, increase in divorces, and normal trials of life, we often find ourselves caring for and supporting our children and grandchildren.

This blog was put on hold for awhile because I was fulfilling my own "Sandwich Generation" duties. Between a heavy work schedule, caring for the needs of ailing parents, problems of adult children and caring for grandchildren, I didn't find time for other things, like cleaning my house and writing blogs. Life just does that to you sometimes. What is more important than our relationships, anyway?

Women tend to take on the caregiver role for invalid parents and in-laws, husbands with a chronic illness, children who can't seem to make it independently, grandchildren who are left by working or non-functioning children, even friends and neighbors who are in need. The nurturing trait in women often brings a sincere desire to help, and we may have the feeling that if we don't do it, who will? Or, no one loves them as much as I do, so no one will give them the kind of care I will give them.

Too often, however, a caring woman becomes exhausted trying to do it all, and starts resenting her lot in life, those she cares for, and/or those who could also be helping but aren't. The duties and chores become overwhelming and her own physical and emotional health starts to suffer. She feels trapped in an unending cycle of duties and can't see any way out. The people she is caring for may seem ungrateful or even antagonistic at times. Often, because of the stress, she begins to experience severe fatigue, aches and pains, hormonal imbalances and depressive episodes. I often see caretaker women in my office in this state. Are relationships worth all of this?

Yes, they usually are, but there are always an infinite number of possibilities to bring greater balance into our lives so that we don't allow our own health to suffer because of our caretaking duties. I will give several suggestions here, but I encourage you to write in the comments section with your own experiences and suggestions, so that we can all learn from each other.

  1. Let go of doing it perfectly. We often want to show our love by doing for others what they can't do for themselves, and we want to do it the very best way we can. But usually we can cut back in the time and effort needed if we are able to let go of the need to it perfectly. In all actuality, most of those we care for don't notice the difference when we go the extra mile, and they are just as happy with our "second best" as with our "best."
  2. If you are caring for someone with a chronic illness, exhaust every resource for extra care. Most insurances won't volunteer what they will cover until asked. Get the doctor to write a prescription for an evaluation by a home health care company. They will be able to determine what the insurance will cover, and often it is more than you might believe. It may save you trips to the doctor, physical therapist, etc.
  3. Take at least one day off from your caretaker role every week. Use another willing relative (often we don't realize how much help others will give until we ask), hire a babysitter (no, they won't do as good a job as you do, but your loved one will manage), ask for assistance from your church, call the senior center to find what support they can give, or hire a professional caretaker (sometimes they are not as expensive as you might have believed). We hired a professional caretaker to care for my parents five days a week, and my sister comes in two days a week. That was less expensive than an assisted living center, and my parents are more comfortable in their own home.
  4. Enroll others into assisting with your other responsibilities: shopping, housecleaning, food preparation, washing clothes, etc. Often stores will deliver free or for a small fee when you shop for groceries online. It's ok to spend a little to hire someone to do deep cleaning once a week. Just look at it as an investment in your health.
  5. Know your limits. If you are reaching the end of your rope, it may be time for someone else to take over, or to place them in a nursing home (there are good ones out there, if you keep looking). There may come a time when your children will have to find another babysitter for your beloved grandchildren. Know when to let go, which can be the hardest task of all. It's ok to say no, even when you love them.

We are each here to learn life's lessons. Sometimes we love the most by letting our loved ones deal with things on their own, and work through their own problems and issues, rather than rescuing them every time. I continually have to remind myself of this. I tend to be a rescuer. I find that asking the simple question, each time I am faced with another way to take care of someone, "What is for the highest good?", that usually I can care for them in a balanced and responsible way.

I encourage and welcome any other comments and suggestions. Now, back to making sandwiches :)

Until we meet again,

Dr. Judi


Monica said...

cute picture! (wink, wink ;-) I still have that picture on my fridge. You'll have to take it with you the next time you are here.

Carol D. O'Dell said...

Thanks for your post. I was my mom's full-time caregiver (she had Parkinson's and Alzheimer's) as well as being a mom to three teenage daughters. Wasn't easy, I tell you--and my mom was more stubborn than my kids!
Women have always been the hub of the home--but women used to have each other. There was a circle of aunts, cousins, sisters, nieces and neighbors who gathered to quilt, put up peaches, watch each other's kids--and without the strength of each other, we're left depleted.

No wonder we get osteoperosis--the very life is sucked out of our bones. Now that's an analogy.

Yes, we now need to replace the women in our lives with community resources--which are sorely needed. But I hope the help comes in the form of flabby underarms and generous hips. We all need a jolly, wise old aunt or grandmother, don't we?

~Carol D. O'Dell
Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
available on Amazon

heather said...

I am always amazed as I watch my mother caring for everyone around her. Even when she came to help me with my new baby, she found others in my ward who could use a meal, or a listening ear, and she provided it. Wise words, Judi, and thank you for caring for Grandma and Grandpa for us.