Over on (in)Courage this morning, a woman posted about being in the "Sandwich Generation". For those of you not familiar with the term, it refers to the current generation of adults raising children and also finding themselves primary caregivers for aging parents. Although this is not a new phenomenon, strictly speaking, it has taken on new dimensions in recent years as the elderly are living longer than ever, often with physical and psychological demands of unprecedented complexity.
Her post really caught my eye, because multiple people that I know - many the same age as I am - have been dealing with the challenges and heartbreaks so often involved in being part of the SG.
In part from the stories they've told me, and in part from reading I've done various places, I'd like to offer a few suggestions every family should consider to ease their eventual transition into and through this period of life.
1. Build a support network. Friends, family, your church - invest in relationships and cultivate honesty in your interactions. When push comes to shove, these people will be physical and emotional support for you and your family.
2. Consider your kids' comfort. Talk to friends you trust or trusted parents of your kids' friends. Discuss the possibility of taking each other's children for overnights or a weekend if need be. When you are already comfortable with each other's routines, basic health concerns, etc. it will be much easier to help out in times of stress or crisis. (My parents did this with us when I was younger and one of siblings were seriously ill. It was a huge blessing for all of us.)
3. Plan ahead. Some of this sounds morbid to ask your loved ones about, but suck it up and do it anyway! Every adult needs a will, a health care proxy and a single, organized place in which to store their essential information. Phone numbers, medication lists, doctors' contact information. God forbid something happens to you, there needs to be a designated person with the information essential to make the decisions you would want made.
4. Do the paperwork. Make sure someone you trust has permission to pick your kids up from school in an emergency. Get access codes or backup permissions in place so that a trusted friend or executor can handle your bills, utilities, etc. if (God forbid) something happens to you. (This is especially important if you're single, or you and your spouse frequently travel together.) Please note that a lot of things can take months or even years to fully go into effect, so you want to get started on this well in advance of any issues.
5. Take care of yourself. Good nutrition, consistent sleep and at least a little exercise will go a long way. It may feel selfish at the time, but its an essential part of keeping yourself healthy and able to make the tough decisions everyone is counting on you for.
6. Clean up and pare down. Consider giving heirlooms to family members or friends before someone dies. This not only allows parents or grandparents to share the joy of the receiver, but prevents misunderstandings and conflict later on. Living creates random detritus; you don't want to leave any more of it than necessary for your family to sort through and deal with when you're gone or too sick to do it yourself. No one's saying you need to part from beloved objects, but devoting a little time to cleaning out the old, unnecessary and useless stuff that accumulates will be a precious gift to your family.
These are only a few ideas, but I encourage all families to have some honest, serious conversations about these tough subjects and consider what small steps you can begin taking to ease the transitions that all families inevitably face.
Have experiences or suggestions I didn't mention? Leave them in the comments!