Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sandwich generation still needs time for self

The term “sandwich generation” isn’t new. I was actually cleaning out my files during our last office move and found a newspaper article I’d written about the term over 20 years ago.

The experience of caring for our elders isn’t new, either, although it is becoming more and more the norm as our parents’ generation lives longer, healthier lives.

Blogger Kerri Zane recently wrote an article called “The crusty side of sandwich gen,” where she describes her experience being in the middle of what is nobody’s picnic: caring for her two teenagers, being a single mom, and helping her ailing 89 year old mother.

Her description of the challenges she faced after her father’s death are gripping: Figuring out how to do the tasks Dad always handled, while being in no way able to fill the emotional void he left behind.

“It is devastating for her and for me,” she comments, referring to watching her once “non-stop mom” now bedridden and frail.

Kerri finds a brief respite from her constant challenges during her morning workout. Kerri rightly sees these moments not only as important to her health and well-being, but truly essential to her sanity.

You might think that in 20 years those of us living in the sandwich generation might have gotten some breaks. We might have found resources, tips, ideas and technology to help us cope better.

Instead, I think perhaps our lives have gotten even busier. With cell phones and email we’re never out of touch, but that means we rarely get those precious times alone with our own thoughts. Our kids are doing more (that means more commitment from us); our parents are living longer (that means more expectations from us, too).

Like Kerri, my daily salvation comes during my walks. No phone, no conversation; just me and my thoughts. I try to notice the leaves, trees, streams; to find things in my surroundings that draw me out of myself and remind me that, indeed, life – though pretty tight here in the middle of the sandwich – is a very good thing.

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