‘Sandwich moms’ are caught between kids, parents | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

‘Sandwich moms’ are caught between kids, parents


“Susan” is a 45-year-old woman who leaves her house bright and early every day for her job at an advertising agency. Her mom, age 75, is in cancer treatment and unable to drive.

Because Susan had to take time off from work yesterday to take her mom to the doctor, she’s going in extra early today to make up the time. During her lunch break, she needs to dash to the pharmacy to pick up her mom’s medicine. Thrilled to be leaving the office on time, Susan stops at the store on her way home to pick up some groceries for her mom.

Her cell phone rings. It’s her 16-year-old son who needs a ride home from basketball practice. Susan dashes over to the high school, picks up her son and drops him at home. She then goes to her mom’s house, helps her unpack the groceries, makes her something to eat, and spends some time helping her mom go through her bills. Exhausted, she heads home, hoping to relax after her long day. Then she remembers. Her husband has a meeting after work and won’t be home until late.  Which means Susan is also on homework duty for her son and younger daughter. 

Michael Luber, PsyD, psychologist with Jewish Family Services

Michael Luber, PsyD, psychologist with Jewish Family Services

As she finishes doing the dishes and gets ready to fold the laundry, a text comes in from her son who’s away at college. He has to buy some books he hadn’t budgeted for. Can she please put more money in his account.

If this story sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), as many as 44 percent of Americans between the ages of 45 and 55 are sandwiched between caring for both their parents and children, even if they do not live in the same household. The majority of these caregivers, roughly 75 percent, are women, although the percentage of male caregivers has grown significantly in recent years.

Sandwich generation moms often are under appreciated. They deserve tremendous credit for caring for their children, and for dealing with the stress and myriad of emotions associated with caring for elderly parents.

It is common to feel a sense of responsibility to care for your parents and often guilt for not having enough time to devote to their needs. This is compounded by the overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief watching your parents decline. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that mothers in the sandwich generation feel more stress than any other age group as they balance the demanding, delicate acts of caring for growing children and their aging parents. In addition, research has found that the sandwich generation spends an average of 1,350 hours each year caring for their parents and children.

When you add in a full work schedule to everything else life throws at you on a daily basis, feeling overwhelmed and anxious is inevitable. This stress takes a toll on personal relationships, physical health and overall well-being.

The High Holidays are an opportune time for moms and their families to take a step back, acknowledge how stressful dual caregiving is, and find some healthy ways to manage it. Here are some suggestions:

Practice self-care. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to properly take care of others. Airline crews are familiar with this when they instruct you to put your oxygen mask on before you put your child’s on. Meeting your own basic needs can go a long way toward combating stress and anxiety. That means ensuring you get enough exercise, proper nutrition, sleep and regular doctor appointments.

Ask for help…. and take it. You may handle most of the caretaking duties, but that doesn’t mean you need to do absolutely everything yourself. When someone offers to help, say, “Yes!”  Remember, it is okay for you to ask for help as well. People are often amazed at how much help they can get if they just ask for it.

Prioritize what matters. You are one person and there are 24 hours in a day. Those two numbers won’t change. Make a list of all of the things you think need to be done, and then prioritize them. What can you eliminate? How can you pare down your workload each day? Learn to say “no” to unnecessary requests or demands on your time.

Be selfish. Even though you’re convinced there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, it’s okay to take some time for yourself on a regular basis. In fact, it’s necessary! Give yourself permission to do at least one thing for yourself every day – just because you enjoy it.

Relinquish control. Once you’ve carefully chosen your priorities, let everything else go. If you need to let the housekeeping slide while you spend time at the doctor with a parent, don’t worry about it. This also means that it is okay to let go of routine. If you can get help with daily tasks, things do not always have to be done the way you are used to. You may have to simply accept that things are done.

Lose the guilt. Misplaced guilt is one of the most taxing emotions. Yet, if you’re like a lot of people, you’re great at feeling guilty all the time for everything. It takes a lot of work to let go of guilt, especially for those in the Sandwich Generation. Because you’re pulled in so many directions caring for your kids, parents, spouse, and job, you probably feel like you just can’t seem to please anyone. This is where you need to step back, take a deep breath, and tell yourself that everything you’re doing is helping and that you are only one person.

Enjoy the moment. There’s a lot of joy to be found in caring for others. As hard as it might sound, just being in the moment and trying to enjoy the time you’re spending with your children and aging parents can help take the edge off of your stress.

Seek help from a professional. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that caregivers try to find someone they can talk to, confide in, and truly vent to without feeling guilty. Therapy can help you become better able to cope with the stress and depression you’re feeling, give you the motivation (and permission) you need to take care of yourself, and build the strength you need to carry on when you feel overwhelmed. Seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, being able to recognize when you need help and asking for it is a sign of strength.

Michael Luber, PsyD, of Jewish Family Services, is a licensed psychologist.