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The ‘Sandwich Generation’: Valuing Your Roles as Carer of the Young, Carer of the Older.

Larissa Dann

‘Sandwich generation’ is a term to describe people who are bringing up children while also caring for their ageing parents.

At the moment I’m the vegemite in that sandwich, my time and energy thinly spread between my parents, my children, and occasionally, my long-suffering partner.

For the past twenty years I’ve primarily thought of myself as a Mum. At times, it seemed like my name had even changed, with no formal application on my part. Instead of being known as ‘Larissa’, more often than not I was addressed as “David’s Mum”* or “Jenny’s Mum”. I was almost at the point of signing documents as “X’s Mother”.

Now, unexpectedly (but how could this be expected?), a large chunk of my time is taken up by tending to my ageing and ailing parents. One has cancer, the other dementia. Ironically I’m now being addressed as “Rod’s daughter” or “Hazel’s daughter”. And, I do get to sign documents as “X’s Daughter”, as a guardian for my parents.

So – I am a carer of the younger, and a carer of the older. I find that I spend much of my time in specialist waiting rooms, gazing at bland cream walls with glossy professional prints, trying not to listen to the whispered conversations at the receptionist desk, and ignoring that peculiar antiseptic odour that belongs only to surgeries.

As I sit there next to my parent I find myself fine-tuning my timetable for the day. What do I need to do next? What have I just done? What new appointments must be made? And as I’m a science-y type of person, I begin to analyse, and then categorise, my life. I discover that much of what I do now for my parents, I also do, or did, for my children.

In some ways, my role as a daughter of my parents has reversed, and I am taking a parenting role – with my own parents.

I begin to classify my days into varying functions. For fun, I write a job description for each position I am undertaking – as the carer of a child, or carer of a parent. What are the duties and skills of each role; the similarities, the differences? To whom am I responsible? I tabulate the results.

Pages and pages emerge from my fingertips and onto the screen. I see before me, in black and white, a description of my days as both a carer of a parent, and a carer of a child.

I realise that my duties and responsibilities for both roles include functions such as:

  • Valuing my time together with my parent or child
  • Acting as an interpreter
  • Advocating, questioning the experts
  • Taxi driving
  • Managing a hotel, being a: housekeeper; caterer; launderer; kennel operator
  • Case management
  • Encouragement and Empowering

The skills I need to have on hand include

  • Ability to find humour in a situation
  • Patience, self control, understanding and empathy
  • Communication, counselling and conflict resolution skills
  • Self-awareness and an ability to look after myself, both mentally and physically, and to forgive myself when I’m make mistakes. After all, I am only human.

I include this list into a table, with headings. Suddenly, my days look formal, even professional.

You can find my full, exhausting, tabulated list here.

To my surprise, I find that as I make each role tangible, I begin to feel relieved, to feel validated. Any negative feelings (such as resentment), that may have seeped in to undermine my relationship with my parent (or my child, heaven forbid!) is acknowledged, and then released. I realise that each duty or responsibility is only for now, and not forever.

As I think about what I do, I find I value myself, and the roles I am playing. I value the person for whom I am caring. And most importantly, I value the relationship we have together.

I am by no means a perfect candidate for either role! They say each mistake is a learning point. Well, I have many, many learning points in my life!

I am fortunate that I love being a parent, and that I am the adult child of much loved, and loving, parents. Your situation may differ in some way or other from mine, but you may still find similarities. Some of you may be grandparents who find themselves caring for their elderly parents, while providing care for their very young grandchildren. Others may have a distant relationship with their parents, or be caring for a child with a disability. Some of you may have no children.

Perhaps writing your own ‘Position Description’ will be as useful and validating for you, as it was for me, whatever your situation.

* All names have been changed, except mine!

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Larissa Dann

Larissa is a parent who, many years ago, attended a parenting course. The skills and approach of that program influenced her life so profoundly that she became a parent educator. She is now an experienced instructor of Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.), having taught over 1000 people, including parents, teachers and practitioners. Larissa uses the skills everyday, endeavouring to ‘practice what she preaches’. She is an accredited P.E.T. facilitator, group leader, and counsellor. She feels privileged each time she teaches, as she observes the communication skills empower children, parents and carers in a relationship of respect. Larissa is now enjoying dabbling in the area of written reflections, otherwise known as blogs at www.parentskills.com.au/blogs/larissa

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