Wednesday Bubble: Stories from the Sandwich Generation

Posted by on Sep 18, 2013 in aging | 1 comment


I have long heard the term ‘Sandwich Generation’ tossed around as if it’s something that those of us who are in our fifties can’t escape. Indeed, women and men between the ages of 45 and 55, the generation I have always referred to as the Tailgaters (not quite Boomers but at the tail end) are increasingly finding themselves in a financial pickle as they try to navigate college tuition, aging parents who may need financial assistance and their own retirement. However, when I step back from the classic definition and remove the top layer, what I really see is an aspect of being part of the Sandwich that many people disregard: emotions.

In an interesting piece that ran in yesterday’s New York Times, journalist Jane Brody writes “moral obligations to assist one’s aging parents are commonly felt. They can leave adult children feeling overburdened and neglectful of their own families, personal needs and goals. Indeed, The New York Times for several years has devoted a blog entirely to this subject, The New Old Age.”

There it is; not only are we being pulled in various financial directions but we are also wedged between the emotional needs of ourselves, our family and our parents’.

How do you navigate this path successfully, without succumbing to emotional exhaustion? And when is it okay to step back and take a day to regroup and reenergize in the midst of a crisis? When is the deck so stacked that one wrong move can cause the entire sandwich to spill over onto the plate of life?

Earlier this year, I reported on findings from a nine-year study in almost 200 midlife women (ages 49 to 53) that supported what we all inherently know; this emotional burden may skew towards women in many cases and recovery for some, especially those who experience high levels of burnout, may be slow. The most important factors that promote a slow recovery include concurrent changes in life stress, work-related factors and coping ability/attitudes towards life. When women were divided into clusters reflecting patterns of burnout, the researchers found that high levels of life stress (e.g. concern for ailing parents, or concern for own health or their partner), coupled with a greater sensitivity to stress and job strain was a recipe for prolonged, worsening burnout. Women who had high levels of life stress but more control over their work environment were able to recover from burnout over time. Conversely, women with low levels of life stress, susceptibility to stress, anxiety and high levels of coping and a sense of control didn’t appear to be dealing with much burnout; the ability to draw on internal resources appeared to be protective in across a broad range of wellbeing indices.

I am in the midst of my own sandwich right now, balancing aging parents requiring medical and emotional attention with work with finances with a search for a new home. I am a burnout poster child for countless others who find themselves feeling helpless as they try to decide whether mustard or mayo will somehow make it all a bit more palatable.

Analogies aside, I would love to hear your personal story, the pathways you’ve engaged to find joy in the midst of an unbalanced life, the strategies you’ve used to redefine your role in the Sandwich that is life and aging parents and family and health and finances.

Where are you? And where do you want to be.

I want to hear from you my fellow Sandwichers. Share your recipe for regaining your power and balance, your tricks of the trade, your trials and tribulations, your journey navigating your way to happy. Post a comment below or write to me at Who knows? We may have a series in the making.



One Comment

  1. 2-16-2014

    Oh, Liz, do I ever feel you on this one, fellow burnout poster child. 8-year-old child, full-time job with decreasing schedule flexibility, elderly father with serious issues and several dangerous incidents/accidents over the past year, triathlon training, marriage getting no attention, trying to keep a household together, newly struggling with perimenopausal anxiety attacks. I feel like a sandwich…that someone stomped on. I have NO idea how I am going to navigate this and regain my energy. Yoga helps me, but I have a pulled tricep so have had some success with meditation…if I wake up during the night I can sometimes eventually get myself back to sleep with deep breathing and meditating on a calming phrase. I love exercise as you know and that helps, but right now it’s often hard to find the energy for that which is *NOT* my normal. I’m interested in herbal remedies…I read your post about valerian/lemon balm. Much to learn. Thank you for being here to help with that. 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *