My mother is 93 and has been facing health challenges. My younger daughter is getting married. My grandkids are learning all kinds of new tricks.
And, like that mystery meat inside of two bread slices, I’m defining who and what I am at this phase of my life.
I’m not alone. Most of my friends and colleagues are now juggling aging parents, kids at various stages of development, births, weddings, funerals, partners, ex-partners, and all kinds of life’s other realities and “condiments” (some sweet and some nasty).
22 million of us sandwich people are around right now and I didn’t need to read this article to know that I’m sometimes stressed about it.
Because I’m older, wiser, and somewhat calmer and more rational, this time in my life is not quite as stressful as launching a new product while planning my own wedding or toilet-training a toddler while working full-time or getting ready for summer camp and back-to-school season, but it definitely presents a wide range of new experiences and challenges.
I’m discovering some of the keys to successful sandwiching. After all, we are writing this playbook as we go. Here’s what I’ve learned and can help you stay sane and balanced.
- Make sure you’re an important part of the sandwich…not simply getting squashed by all the soggy bread and other add-ons. By thinking of yourself as the main ingredient, you’ll be stronger and better equipped to deal with challenges.
- Talk about your situation to others who are going through similar life circumstances. At our age, we all know people who have parents who are losing steam. Researching assisted living facilities, downsizing your childhood home, and making difficult life (and sometimes death) decisions are really common activities for sandwich people. When I told my colleagues that I was writing this story, I received a terrific anecdote from Karen Dennis, a health care publicist and mother of four. She said:
“I’m a mom of four (ages 23-38), grandma to two baby princesses who live down the block, and daughter to a 91-year-old father who lives in Boca Raton.
Last week, I was working on a deadline, had two babies sleeping in my house and my dad called that he was in an ambulance on the way to the ER. Called my sister in law to babysit, grabbed my laptop, headed for the ER, finished the project in between CT scans and then took my dad home with me for 24-hour surveillance. He’s fine…I’m still hyperventilating.
So I’m definitely the peanut butter between three slices of bread. And like peanut butter, when things go smoothly, I am creamy and when all hell breaks loose, I shift into crunchy mode.”
As I said, hearing others’ challenges is comforting, validating, and sometimes comical.
- Ignore the toxic side dishes. Sometimes friends and relatives mean well but meddle in your business. If necessary, bring in independent third parties to help make tough decisions.
- Treat your aging parents the same way YOU want to be treated as you get older. If your kids see you dismissing or mistreating them, they may ultimately behave the same way.
- Maintain a perspective and sense of humor. Don’t let stress destroy your own health. Make time for self-care
Above all, remember that this is a new phenomenon. People are living longer and families are spread out geographically. More of us are sandwiches than ever before. Remain healthy and tasty, even though the tough times.
You’re not alone on the platter of life!