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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Stuck in the Middle… (said no one, ever)

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I recently dug through some mementos my mother had saved from my grade school years. One of the most precious finds was a grade school book, which chronicled the time from Kindergarten (not that I attended) through 6th Grade (yes, I’m old – Elementary school back then was through the 6th grade).

The neatest thing about this book was that there was a pocket page with just enough space for pictures, keepsakes and a 5"x7" photo of the whole class.

There was also space for you to fill in your age, weight, height, favorite TV shows and what you wanted to be when you grew up. It was like a school journal. In the occupation section, I had things like teacher, veterinarian, geologist, archaeologist, teacher again, traveler and of course singer and actress. Typical grade school stuff.

During the course of my coaching, the topic of long-lost dreams often surfaces. It's invigorating to see clients' reactions when they reminisce about what they wanted to become when they were "grown-ups."

As a Dreamer and Dream Strategist, I ask this question frequently. I ask in equal measure to the adults I coach and the children I meet during my volunteering trips. I've heard it all. I mean... nowadays one of the most common responses from kids is "YouTuber."

But I’ll tell you what I’ve never heard – ‘I want to be the middle of a Sandwich’.

Nope, it’s never come up.

Want to know why? Because no one ever thinks to themselves: "Gee, when I grow up I want to be raising my grown kids and taking care of my parents who are losing the ability to care for themselves.

Sounds brutal, but it's true. Let's say it's true-tal.

If you're like me and many of my contemporaries, you probably find yourself stuck somewhere between raising or helping your children and helping your aging parents. You might not have even noticed it. It's so subtle that it sneaks up on you in the middle-age era.

There's this article published by Medicare based on statistics by the CDC written by Jory Cross. In it, there's plenty of data from the National Longitudinal Survey that details several characteristics of those in our category.

"80% spend at least 23 hours a week caring for aging parents or in-laws."

"About 30% spend 26 hours a week helping their children."

"A ‘sizable’ group of women spend an average of 28 hours a week providing childcare, most likely for grandchildren."

"80% are spending money on their children other than college support and 70% are contributing money to their parents.”

Does this sound familiar? Do these hours and financial statistics actually fall short of what we are faced with? Think about it: many of our children are returning home after college and our parents are living longer and in need of more care and medication.

Interestingly enough, the study found that -- of over 40 million unpaid elder caregivers in the United States -- 75% are also employed outside the home. So that's two or three jobs already, though we're only getting paid for one. Imagine the mounting responsibilities of our children, work life and aging parents. How do we cope with the stresses coming from being the middle of this sandwich?

Staying Afloat

How are you coping? Many of us who find ourselves in this situation are able to look at it from the perspective of the blessing that it is to have our loved ones to care for – we feel blessed that we’re able to care for them and assist however we can – whether it’s providing financial assistance or helping out with the grandbabies (our favorite part).

Having said that, what can we do to reduce the damaging effects of these additional stressors?

Because I’m there, smack dab in the middle of this sandwich, I’d like to offer just a few suggestions that may help:

1) Have THAT conversation: The worst thing in the world is assuming that you know what’s going on in the other person’s mind. We're not psychics, so take that responsibility off yourself.

You don’t know if you’re doing too little or doing too much and guess what? Everyone’s wondering the same thing.

That conversation doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable one but it will always be a necessary one. We may be overdoing things that are not necessary because of the story going on in our heads. Bring everything out to the open and give everyone the space and opportunity to speak freely without judgment and without reading too much into it.

If you don’t feel comfortable even bringing that invitation, holy shit, you need it more than most. Consider this a shameless plug, but you might be a great fit for our Sandwich Generation Workshop, which you can read more about here.

2) Make sure that other family members are aware and involved and don’t be afraid to ask for their help. If they’re able, you’d be surprised how little will be required from each person if everyone just chips in a bit.

3) Make sure that you are staying healthy. Do you ever think to yourself “crap I can’t afford to get sick” because everyone is seemingly depending on you? Well, worrying about that is a great way to insure the stress will eventually catch up with you.

These are just a few suggestions and we’re going to be covering a lot more tips and tools at the Workshop.

If you feel you are in a similar situation and would love to look into ways to cope and even help others cope, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to attend this fun, possibly necessary event.

See you there!

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