A Critical Lesson for the Sandwich Generation
I have five kids. My 90-year-old dad is recovering from two strokes and my mom has Alzheimer’s. I am living in the sandwich generation; the generation of people responsible for raising their kids while simultaneously caring for their aging parents.
A few years ago, I spent a week with my folks who spend their winters in Florida. I figured that I could work with my husband to organize meals, lifts and social schedules for my kids from afar and that I could also squeeze in a few business calls while I was away.
Here’s what happened. I was scheduled to be the guest speaker on a teleseminar for one of the largest publications in the coaching industry while I was in Florida. I needed to use the landline at my parents’ place so that attendees could hear me clearly. I explained to my parents repeatedly that I would need the phone and asked them not to make any calls.
There were over 200 coaches on the line, listening intently to my ‘words of wisdom,’ when my mother picked up the phone and began speaking in French in her heavy Egyptian-Jewish accent.
“Allô? Qui est là?” she asked, meaning, “hello? Who’s there?” She had clearly forgotten about my request.
I had to pause the teleseminar smack in the middle to explain to my mother that I was on an important call and she had to hang up. Even though no one could see my face, my cheeks were burning. I was embarrassed and felt my credibility fly out the window. I felt bad not only because I looked like a fool in a professional setting, but because I was so flustered and stern when I asked my mother to hang up.
That experience taught me a valuable lesson – one that has helped me deal far more effectively with my role as a daughter and parent in the sandwich generation:
Let everything go and be where you are.
This idea of being where you are is the secret to managing all of the complexities of being in the sandwich generation. When you are with your parents, focus on being with your parents. Put your appointments on hold and put your phone away. Give them the gift of your complete presence. By the same token, when you promise to spend time with your kids, give them your undivided attention. Be with them, play with them and listen to them as though it’s the single most important conversation you will ever have.
Be patient too, knowing that these moments are fleeting and that one day, you will wish you could recapture them. Carve out time for your business and your health as well. Live guilt-free. As long as you give yourself permission to suspend everything else and simply be where you are, you will find that living in the sandwich generation is not only completely manageable, but even filled with some rewards.
I was in Florida a few days ago to spend another week with my parents. I cleared my calendar completely and let all my coaches and clients know that I was going to dedicate this time to just being with my parents. There was no uproar and there was no rebellion. There was simply a sense of quiet respect. One client even said to me, “I am going to do that too.”