We have all heard of the “sandwich generation” – those middle-aged adults who are still caring for their own children and also an aging parent. Well, here is an emerging trend that I will call the Triple Decker Sandwich generation: Baby Boomers who help care for aging parents, who still have children at home of their own, and who find themselves also taking on full time care of their small grandchildren. Yes, that is a sandwich of an entirely different kind. That is a Triple Decker.
Pew Social Trends (2013) revealed that many adults in their 30s and 40s were caring for ailing older parents and also providing some type of financial support for grown children. This resulted in reports from the sandwich generation in feeling in a hurry, rushed, and not having enough time for all of their expected duties. Now, add to those statistics another emerging trend: grandparents caring for grandchildren. I am not referring to the occasional or even regular hour babysitting or childcare that loving grandparents provide. Instead, this is the 24/7 responsibility for grandchildren who live with them, or whom they have adopted. The 2015 Profile of Older Americans from the Agency on Aging found that “in 2014, about 554,579 grandparents aged 65 or more had the primary responsibility for their grandchildren who lived with them”. Now, please note that this is only those grandparents aged 65 an over. What about all the others in their 50s and early 60s doing the same? I imagine that each person reading this can think of at least one or two grandparents who are raising small grandchildren. The implications of this on the health of aging persons is enormous. So, here are some tips to survive the Triple Decker Sandwich generation.
If you have this many people in your life to care for, you must pace yourself. Avoid the temptation to give 100% all the time. It isn’t possible. Something in your life will suffer – and often this is your own health. Think of this task of caring for multiple generations as running a marathon. Develop skills, train, get into a good rhythm that you can maintain for the long haul.
You might have been able to juggle 4 kids and a job when you were in your late 20s or early 30s, but maybe now you are in your 50s with aging parents, teenagers, and a grandbaby to care for. Flexibility is a key to success. You just can’t do everything the same way if you are caring for small children again. Decide what is most important. Set reasonable and attainable goals. Make small goals for each day and celebrate those accomplishments.
Even if you were used to being able to do it all yourself when you were younger, the amount of care that a Triple Decker generation person takes on requires some help at times. Let your adult children watch that baby to give you a break. Let the teens in the house help with the childcare. It is a good time for them to learn these skills for when they are parents. Tag team with your spouse to share the burden if you have a little one in the home. Church friends are happy to help if you need a night out.
Take time to rejuvenate
Being part of a Triple Decker sandwich is tough. Take time to rejuvenate to avoid burnout. You can’t care for anyone if you become ill or incapacitated yourself. For each person, renewal comes in different forms. For men, this might mean playing a sport or watching games on TV without interruption, or having a quiet private place in the house that is off limits from the noise of the household. For moms, this might be shopping alone or getting a manicure or pedicure. Sometimes talking on the phone, or meeting with friends for lunch provides a needed break. Know what you personally need to recharge and refocus and then allow yourself this (without guilt) on a regular basis. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can change how you deal with them.
Don’t expect too much
Chances are, if you find yourself in the Triple Decker mode, you are aging yourself. You can remember how you balanced work, life, kids, and higher education by yourself years ago. Now you wonder how you did it all. Well, you were 20 or 30 years younger then, so cut yourself some slack. Be sure to get enough sleep. Take breaks as needed. Exercise and eat right. Cut out the unnecessary things you did before to fill time and focus on those priorities that you set, without neglecting your own health.
Triple Decker Sandwich persons are tough and resilient. Congratulate yourself that you have been able to make it all work and care for your many loved ones. You sacrifice many things such as an easy and comfortable retirement and the ability to travel. But, you have given a great gift to those you love by sharing your care for them. In the end when you reflect back on your life accomplishments, you might very well find that this was one of the greatest.