ARE YOU STUCK IN THE SANDWICH GENERATION?Lisa
Today my son turns 7 – the age of reason! This is a milestone my husband and I have been looking forward to as parents, as do most others that have been through their share of tantrums and overall irrational behavior. I’m hoping we’re in a lull for a few years before starting over again with the tween years.
This picture was taken a few years ago at a joint birthday celebration for my son and father, one of my favorite photos. Not much longer after this my dad was diagnosed with kidney failure and spent the last year of his life fighting to get well while going to dialysis several times a week.
Around this time I learned what the Sandwich Generation was: middle age people that are still raising their kids while caring for aging parents. What I took away most from this was how lucky I was; as the youngest of six kids, there were so many other people that were able to step up and take over the very long to-do list that was part of my father’s care. Getting dropped off at dialysis and then picked up four hours later, three days a week. An endless list of doctor appointments (I forgot to mention he was also dealing with intestinal cancer!), brand new diet restrictions, new medications, having someone shower him – this just some of the work that went into it. I live 2 hours away from my parents and my small children are in school. I have a job and was in school completing my health coaching certification during the year my father needed constant care. I wasn’t able to help in the way that I wanted and was so grateful to know my siblings were able to provide the care he deserved (our father was the best).
I wasn’t the one bearing the brunt of the care for my father yet my anxiety and stress was through the roof. How would I have handled it if I was alone or had unsupportive siblings? My first thought about people in this situation is how is THEIR health? As a parent, I have learned the old advice is true – if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else. Middle age is a crucial time to get your own health on track and make permanent lifestyle changes to reduce your own risks for chronic illnesses.
Did you know there are over 800,000 new cases each year of Type 2 diabetes among people ages 45-64? Type 2 diabetes used to be referred to as adult onset, but the number of younger people developing the disease is increasing. And those with Type 2 diabetes are now at a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke and depression (higher risk among women). According to healthline.com, this is a list of the biggest risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes:
- are over the age of 40
- are overweight
- eat a poor diet
- don’t exercise enough
- smoke tobacco
- have high blood pressure
- have a family history of diabetes
- have a history of gestational diabetes, which puts women at a greater risk of developing diabetes after childbearing age
- experience viral infections often
On a positive note, many risk factors can be managed holistically. While people understand what health behaviors they need to change, the challenge is in how to do it. If you are among the group living in the Sandwich Generation, you likely don’t have time to think about it. Making shifts in our habits takes time, planning, and hard work which is not easy to do when you are needed by so many other people. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but you may need to get help. This could mean having a deeper conversation with your primary care physician (btw, when was the last time you went??), creating your own support group, getting in touch with a health coach, getting a personal trainer or finding help to tackle your to-do list to free up valuable time.
Before you dismiss putting this effort into yourself – I urge you to think about your long term future. All the hard work you are doing now should pay off later in a healthy retirement. Once your kids are grown and your career slows down, don’t you want to be able to get outside and live?? Instead of fearing the last leg of our lives, we should be working now to set ourselves up for having the ability to enjoy the time when we are permitted to slow down and take on what we choose.
My dad made it to 86, and although he wanted to keep going, he had a great run at life. He was truly a happy man and I think it’s a pretty nice way to end up. I wish he could be here to see my kids getting older (I can hear him now talking baseball with my son). But he shows up when I need him to – when I’m feeling frustrated with life, he reminds me to love. And that also includes loving yourself – and giving yourself the care you need. Trust me, the people you are caring for will feel the positive effects.