Simi Valley Family Magazine              Fall 2000

Caught in the Middle -- The Sandwich Generation

Audrey Udelf, M.A.

It's a typical day...take the kids to school, go to work, stop at the cleaners on the way home. Suddenly, your phone rings. Your elderly mother, who has been in good health and able to live on her own, has taken a fall, and has a broken hip.  The doctor says she will be OK; however she will not be able to live alone anymore. You have just been initiated into "The Sandwich Generation."
The Sandwich Generation is the group of people (most often women) who are taking care of children still in the home, as well as their aging parents. As couples delay childbirth, and seniors live longer, this group is steadily increasing in population. Without a doubt it is a difficult time. But there are things you can do to make it easier. If your parents are still healthy and capable, the first thing you can do is talk to them in preparation for this life change. Needless to say, this is difficult, and it is imperative that you do so in a loving and respectful way. You and your siblings need to know about their financial arrangements, and if they have money put aside for their senior years. (It is amazing how many "adult children" have no idea about their parents' finances.) If they haven't already, it is time for them to make some arrangements, and for you to be advised.
Financial options are varied. Long-term care insurance may be purchased (which is cheaper the younger and healthier a person is). A bypass trust may be set up, which provides a surviving spouse with a trust that passes to the heirs when that spouse dies, free of estate taxes. The law also allows annual gifts of $10,000 to each family member free of estate taxes, which can be put into an account to provide for health care at a later time. These are just a few options; your attorney or financial planner can help your family make the right decision. You might also request durable power of attorney rights, so that you can make decisions for your parents when they are no longer capable of making those decisions for themselves. Decisions about the end of one's life are best put into writing, with copies given to all children, so that when those difficult decisions need to be enforced, everyone knows what the parent wants.
When your aging parents become ill, you have to make some very difficult decisions about their health care. Again there are a variety of options available. Some people are able to remain in their own homes with part or full time health care aides. If you have the room, and the right circumstances, you can take your parent into your own home with outside help, the help of your siblings, or even the help of your older children. There are respite day care centers for the elderly, and retirement facilities, which may also provide assisted living units and skilled nursing units to which people may progress as their health worsens. Doctors and hospital social workers are good sources to assist you in knowing what is best for your parent.
Often, the most difficult part of this time of life is the emotions you feel, and the demands placed upon you. It is very painful to watch your parents age and become ill. Adult children often experience a variety of feelings, including depression, anger, and guilt, which may benefit from treatment. Unresolved issues with your parents may emerge, and need to be addressed. It is imperative that you get support...you do not have to do this alone. There are a variety of caregiver and family support groups you can attend. You can also get support from other family members, friends, health care workers, clergy, and/or professional counselors.
You need to remember that you can only do so much...if you get sick physically, or overwhelmed emotionally, you will not be available to anyone. Eating properly, exercise, and adequate sleep are essential to keep you going. You must allow time every day to do something you enjoy,  if only for 15 minutes. Stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing will help in the difficult moments. You need to keep in close touch with your own body and feelings, as well as the needs of your spouse and children. This is a prime time when children may feel neglected or depressed. You will want to watch for irritability (often a sign of depression in children), acting out, or becoming quiet and withdrawn. Your marriage may suffer from the added stress, and communication among family members may diminish.
One final note--It is a very good idea to prepare for this life transition for yourself, so that your children will not have to do this for you. This is not a burden that we want to put on our children, and when it does happen, it is usually due to a simple lack of forethought.

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Deborah Tucker, M.A.  •  (805) 583-3976, ext. 33  •  www.simi-therapy.com