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Friday Five: Five Ways to Manage the Stress of Being a Caretaker in the Sandwich Generation

When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, there was a fantastic deli sandwich place called D.B. Kaplans. Located on the 7th floor of the famous Water Tower Place, it boasted a 36 inch long, campy menu of multi-decker sandwiches with funny and fantastical names. My favorite was the “ava-cada-deal-for-you”. I mean who doesn’t love a good sandwich right? An exception to this “hero sandwich” affection is when you feel like you are the middle of a sandwich, as in: a member of the “sandwich generation”. This term generally refers to women who are parenting school age kids while also attending to (or in some cases, caring for) aging parents, or an elderly parent. Sometimes sick or dying elderly parents. Caregivers may also be men, non-binary or trans. I am a card carrying member of the sandwich generation (except I’m a good bit older than most moms in this role due to becoming a mom later in life). Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to be a mom (thanks to the privilege of being able to adopt). I’m also extremely grateful and fortunate that both my parents are alive, reasonably well, and able to be grandparents to my kid. Still, there are times when it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, tired, stressed, and anxious, to name some of the feelings commonly reported by sandwich generation caregivers. Whether working “outside the home” or not, all moms are working moms. Straddling dual (unpaid) caregiver roles, often alongside a paid job, can feel like working 3 jobs, no matter how much love one has for family. Here are 5 ways to manage the specific dual caregiver stress that comes with being a sandwich generation member:

Be realistic about your self-expectations.

You can’t be in two places at once (although you can sometimes Zoom in when necessary). Even if your parent(s)/in-laws etc live with you, there's a finite amount of time and energy one is able to give. Embrace imperfection and know that you are, after all, human.

Delegate where possible.

This can be tricky, but if you have a partner, child or children old enough to help out at home, give them tasks and enlist their help with everyday chores like laundry, dishes and meals. If they appear uncooperative at first, call a family meeting and explain why you are asking for their help. Alternatively, if they are already participating in family operations, tell them why you are asking for more help during this time. You can sometimes ask siblings or other family members for help instead or as well.

Outsource when affordable.

Hire someone to help your parent(s) where applicable. Or maybe arrange for a friend or family member to pick the kid(s) up from school once or twice a week, or invest in after school care as needed/as affordable.

Find solidarity with other sandwich generation members, and/or seek support from a therapist familiar with the issues.


Realize that this is temporary.

Sadly, parents (and children) won’t be around forever. Parents pass on and children grow up. Amidst all the tasks and chaos, try to find moments to connect with both.

Meet Raina Cowan

Raina Cowan self identifies as a cis-gender LGBQT allied woman. Her pronouns are she, her, hers. She is a white immigrant (non-religious) Jewish, married, adoptive mom of a multiracial child and several rescue cats. She was born in London to British parents, was raised on the South side of Chicago, and became a US citizen in 2015. She currently works in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. She is an artist, crafter, registered art therapist (ATR) and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) who is also certified in perinatal mental health (PMH-C). Raina worked in several community mental health settings for almost 20 years before re-launching her private practice. She specializes in using art therapy and art based methods to assist people coping with fertility challenges, pregnancy and transition to parenthood. Raina has personal experience with infertility, assisted reproduction, recurrent pregnancy loss, adoption and parenting. She is committed to providing a safe, anti-oppressive, creative space via cultural humility and ongoing critical pedagogy/critical race theory studies. She has been active in these practices since the 1980’s. You can find her on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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