If you are in your 30’s-40’s and are caring for your aging parents and your own children, then you are a member of the Sandwich Generation. Welcome to the club and, quite frankly, it can be exhausting. It can be painful and scary to see your parents age. If you are emotionally close to your parents, perhaps they are leaning on you and sharing their own process with you. You might want to be there for them in this way, but it’s also hard on you. If you aren’t emotionally close with your parents, there may be words left unsaid or a feeling of disconnect that is confusing and painful. Some parents ask for help while others resist it. Both can prove challenging while you also have your own children to support and manage. You are so busy taking care of everyone else that you may be wondering who is taking care of you.
If you see your parents regularly, you may not notice how they are aging until there is a medical event like a fall that makes you take recognize the state of their health like a slap in the face. If you don’t see your parents regularly, it can be startling to witness the the degree of aging when you visit them. Either way, watching your parent’s mental and physical decline can be scary and painful. This time of life can trigger childhood family of origin issues, fears of abandonment, mid-life crises, and anxiety over your own health. You may want to move closer to your parents which brings on another set of issues as you and your spouse may not agree on relocating your lives.
Be gentle with yourself during this time. Watching a parent transition from an authority figure when you were a child, to a more collegial relationship of equals in adulthood, and then to a more dependent role in their elderly years is a natural but emotional process. Regardless of the closeness of your relationship to a parent, this stage of life (for both you and your parent) can be full of sadness, loss, regret, and fear.
Connect with Your Parent
You may feel disconnected with your parent during this time. You may feel them “slipping away” or not know how to tell them something you’ve always wanted to share with them. There may be words left unsaid, or your past relationship might not have facilitated positive feelings. As painful as it is to think about, there may come a time when you want to have the memories of connection during these final years. Finding ways to connect with your parent, either in a deep or lighthearted way, can help your own feelings of grief during this time. Some ideas include:
- Make a video of your parent answering questions about the story of their life
- Record your parent reading a book to your child
- Talk to (or write a letter to) your parent about anything that’s been left unsaid
- Bring your parent to therapy with you for a session or two if having someone else mediate the conversation would be helpful
- Make new memories with your parent like going on a drive, taking a short trip, watching a movie, or baking
- Send short emails or jokes that you think your parent would appreciate
- Enjoy light moments together – share a laugh, make a joke, bring over a cookie and have some tea
We preach it to our clients, and now is the time to put your tools to work for yourself. Here are some ideas to help you beat the aging parent blues:
- Get personal therapy
- Get out into nature whether it’s for 10 minutes or a weekend camping trip
- Watch a feel-good comedy
- Spend time with close friends who will listen to you
- Schedule time for yourself to grieve, and then put it away
- Do an activity with your kids being fully present with them for an hour
- Get enough sleep
- Nourish your body with healthy and warm food
Remember that you must put your own oxygen mask on first. Self-care ensure your own health so that you can then be there for both your parents and kids. You are a member of the Sandwich Generation. Let yourself be supported while you are supporting those around you.