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The Sandwich Generation & Caregiver Burnout

My family recently celebrated my youngest’s 4th birthday and as I munched on my sandwich I started to reflect on my life.  I often find that celebrations such as birthdays or the upcoming holidays have me feeling more introspective and reflective of my life, the rewards, challenges, and general developmental changes.  I had heard about being part of the sandwich generation but did not fully grasp the concept of this term until this most recent celebration.  A quick Google search offered the following definition for this label: The sandwich generation refers to middle-aged adults (often in their 40s and 50s) who are caring for both elderly parents and their own children.  I started to use this term in my sessions with clients and found that many of us are having similar experiences as we navigate parenting our children while also supporting our aging parents.

As we further processed the term, my clients and I discovered many common themes related to caregiver burnout such as overwhelming fatigue, changes in appetite and sleep hygiene, feeling hopelessness, withdrawing or losing interest in activities once  enjoyed, and general neglect of physical and emotional needs.  For some it can feel validating and supportive when a term is developed or used to describe a situation or general feeling.  While I do believe this term adequately describes the “smooshed” feeling cold cuts must feel between two slices of bread, I also think many other terms also apply to the complexities around caregiving for dichotomous generations.  I prefer to use the term “Gumby” to describe the feeling of being pulled in what seems to be a million directions—seeing how far one can stretch before the clay breaks leaving the Gumby character in a pile of green clay.  Gumby, is an American clay animation franchise centered on the green clay character who goes on many adventures with the other characters on his show.  He is a cute and loveable clay character with wide expressive eyes and a friendly face.  Like Gumby navigating his animated clay world adventures, caregivers face many ups and downs in their journey of caretaking.  Preventing caregiver burnout while being squished and stretched between two generations is essential.

Therapy whether in-person or virtual can be the first step in preventing caregiver burnout and virtual options can make it easier when household responsibilities make it difficult to leave the family home.   Additional tips include opening your heart, mind, and home to support from others- being honest about your frustrations and stress in a nonjudgmental setting can feel supportive and bring relief.  Give yourself permission to take breaks, going to bed early, and trying to wake up 15 minutes before everyone else to set an intention for the day, enjoy a solo cup of coffee, journal, meditate, pray, and stretch.  Make a list of all of your activities and see what can be delegated.  Check into family-leave benefits from your place of employment and/or maybe plan a brief sabbatical.  There are also viable options for temporary respite care, community parents’ night out, and/or virtual support groups.  There are also community organizations such as Lasagna Love, spiritual partners/organizations, nanny shares, personal assistants/home organization options, and laundry pick-up and delivery services to help with the mundane long list of daily tasks.  While you explore what suggestions work best for you and your family, think of yourself as Gumby navigating his clay animated world calling on his clay friends to help with his various adventures and maybe enjoying a sandwich or two while pondering the meaning of life.

Lori Harkin Huse, LCSW, provides individual, couple, and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office and virtually to those located in Virginia. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Lori!