By Elisabeth H. Sanders-Park, CWDP, JCTC
The sandwich generation; that’s what we’re being called. A generation of Americans who are simultaneously managing their career, raising children, and caring for aging parents. But this is nothing new. In fact, it is the long-standing reality for people across the globe, and until the early 20th century most people in the western world juggled these responsibilities. However, wanderlust, a spirit of individualism, and the ease of relocation has fractured families, at least geographically, if not relationally, adding the difficulty of distance.
Currently, the recession has most of us working harder than ever to simply maintain our income, or striving to exist on less, even starting over completely. Overlay that with our decreasing tendency to live in multi-generational configurations, participate in communities of faith, and befriend even our nearest neighbors — any of which could offer some support in the midst of this responsibility — and it’s no wonder we’re exhausted. Sure, it’s all very current and exciting to regularly tweet or text your BFFs in Germany and Singapore – except when you need someone to watch your kids for 19 minutes while you run to the market for a pound of ground beef because you forgot to thaw some before rushing out this morning.
This year alone, I missed being there when my father came-to after surgery that successfully removed lung cancer, because I was 3,000 miles away birthing a bouncing baby boy, and covertly running my company from my hospital bed on a smuggled laptop– btw, NHCRMC in Wilmington has wireless internet access throughout. And, recently, I left my faithful stay-at-home-dad husband and three lovely children for nearly two months to care for my parents who, in separate incidents, ended up in the hospital within four days of each other, so that my two local siblings could focus on their children and careers – btw, OCMMC in Orange County has internet too.
With many Americans sandwiched between caretaking those who come before and after us, while attempting to earn a living and save for retirement, you must be seeing more clients who are struggling with this.
One of my big lessons, which can help your clients, is about ‘hope management’. Sometimes in parenting, always in job search and too often in caring for parents, we move quickly between receiving good news and bad news, feeling hope and frustration or sadness.
Like some of your clients, I am a hopeful person. This gives me a special kind of energy and resolve in difficulty, but it also means I have farther to fall when I finally give in to a sad reality. I am shocked to admit what others have already begun to accept – I didn’t get the job or the contract and no amount of effort can change it, my mother will not get better no matter what, my child truly does have needs and limitations beyond other children.
I recently heard a report that Norwegians are the happiest people on earth, but it is due in great part to the fact that they expect life to be difficult and full of hard work, so things many might consider basic entitlements or minor news exceed their fairly low expectations. In the same way, you have clients who tend to assume the negative. This means they are rarely disappointed and can, seemingly easier than the rest of us, slog through the numbers game of the job search and the ups and downs of caretaking. But they can also get stuck in minimal activity, sabotage and an ‘I told you so’ attitude, or get down. In either case, ‘hope management’ is helpful.
The sand beneath our feet, in terms of employment and caretaking, can shift quickly. The highs and lows can occur suddenly and sometimes endure for shockingly short periods of time. It is wise to avoid standing too firmly in one spot or another – getting too excited or too devastated before we know. How we respond is a function of our personality and our experience, so it’s hard to adopt this attitude at the beginning of a job search or the onset of a family incident. It often develops after we become exhausted from the ups and downs, and resolve to stay in the middle.
In my very recent situation, it only took me a few days to decide that middle ground was the safest emotional place to be. Encourage clients who are being battered by these highs and lows not to count their proverbial chickens before they hatch – feel good about a second interview, but avoid getting too excited or gushing to too many people until the offer is signed, or conversely, not to assume they won’t get the interview or the job because of XYZ, but give their best and hold out hope until the verdict is in. Here are some resources for juggling careers and caregiving… for all of us: