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  • Writer's pictureJulie Burn

Are You Stuck in The Middle Place?

If you are a middle-aged adult caring for both children and ageing parents then you are in the middle place, or as is more commonly known, a member of the sandwich generation.

The sandwich generation is a relatively recent phenomenon. Today we are living longer than ever before, and women, who at one time had children earlier in life, often in their early twenties, are now opting to start families in their thirties or older. This means grandparents are older and often in need of help and support themselves before their grandchildren have flown the nest. This leaves the generation in the middle (sandwich generation) responsible for children and parents. No easy feat.

Although the middle place and all this entails affects both men and women, it tends to be women, seen by society as the primary carers, who tend to take the most responsibility physically for elderly parents and children, including helping bathe, dress, shop, and clean the homes of loved ones, as well as accompanying parents or children to hospital appointments. Women also typically find themselves the emotional support for parents and children, providing a listening ear and support for adolescent worries, and hearing about the aches, pains, loss and loneliness that affect their ageing parents. For the purposes of this article I will address women, but am well aware that many men find themselves in this position also.

What is the Impact of being in the middle place?

The Office for National Statistics 2021 census revealed that 62% of middle-aged women (between 35-54 years), who care for elderly parents now also work, and as most of the responsibility for care falls on their shoulders, many women have to ease up with their paid work, thus putting a strain on the finances.

Caring for two generations takes a lot of time, so any free time a middle-aged woman may have for herself gets eaten up catering to the needs of others. Even sleep, and eating regularly can go off the rails.

Burnout and depression can occur. The caregiver is trying to balance being a good daughter, loving and involved parent, and a reliable employee, thus leaving very little time for self and individual needs.

Feelings of guilt and frustration are common. It is a huge responsibility looking after elderly parents and children, and often one will feel they are neglecting a needy parent in favour of their child, or vice versa. Feeling stretched too thin is all too common.

How to Manage Stress Levels Whilst Caring for Loved Ones

Set Boundaries - Saying "No" is one of the hardest words for people to say but is so so necessary. You cannot do everything and be everything to everybody. Preserve your energy when you can. Learn to say "No" to your teenage son and his mates, who want a lift to football practice. Another parent will surely step in if you can't and the bus leaves at the end of the street. Tell the PTA you can't organise the school summer fair this year - again, another parent will step in if you can't.

Delegate - Ask your partner to help more around the house. Share the load preparing meals, cleaning the house and with child-care. If you have siblings ask if they can accompany your parents to hospital appointments or with their grocery shopping.

Outsource - If you are financially able, consider outsourcing. Hire a cleaner or gardener for your parents, and/or yourself, so you don't wear yourself thin trying to manage two homes and gardens. Find a reliable taxi service that will pick-up, drop-off your parents at hospital or doctor appointments when you or a sibling are unavailable.

Take Time for Yourself - this is not an easy one but essential in order to maintain your mental, emotional and physical health. A walk or a coffee with a friend, an hour to watch your favourite show, a bubble bath with a good book, a run, or an hour at the gym. All valuable ways to care for yourself and take some well-earned time out.

Seek Professional Help - The middle place is a hard place to be, not only physically and financially but emotionally too. It can be hard seeing once vibrant, active parents slowing down and struggling cognitively or physically. Helping our stressed-out teenagers deal with academic issues, friendship worries and sometimes bullying, eating disorders, and other serious mental health problems can be emotionally exhausting. It is a hard place to be.

Consider seeking professional help if you are finding it hard to cope, or if you feel yourself burning out or sliding into depression. Talking to a professional about how you feel and how you are coping can be beneficial and it can be useful to look at coping strategies to aid self-care.

As a member of the sandwich generation, caught in the middle place you have a lot to contend with, so it is vitally important you look after yourself. Think oxygen mask philosophy: in order to save others, you have to put your oxygen mask on first. You matter. Help is out there. All you have to do is ask.

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