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Midlife Sandwich

July '09

The word sandwich has been edging its way into more of my coaching calls of late. As you might surmise, our conversations have not been centered on those tasty items you find at delicatessens, or in picnic baskets at the beach.

Rather the word arrives in the context of the frustration women often feel when they find themselves responsible for tending to two generations at the same time. The term sandwich generation entered Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary in 1987 to describe “a generation of people, who are caring for their aging parents, while supporting their own children.” Researchers may argue about the age of those children, but they agree this phenomenon is on the rise.

A quick trip to Wikipedia informed me that, “according to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40-60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent.” No wonder the word sandwich is cropping up more often. Another fascinating factoid gleaned from this source is that July is officially named in the National Events Registry as Sandwich Generation month. Who knew my choice for this month’s topic would be so inadvertently appropriate?

While Federal recognition for the dedication of a these sandwiched folks is well deserved, the woman in my interactions want to know how to focus on personal expansion when they feel so limited by the caretaking duties they have assumed. This apparent restraint is particularly frustrating at midlife when finding a new direction is on the minds of so many women – whether it means charting a different career path, changing locations, going back to school, or discovering another way to make their lives more authentic.

There are no simple answers here. In my experience, each client gradually finds her own solution in her own unique fashion, as she is really the true expert. I can, however, suggest a good starting point. While it may seem obvious, the first step is awareness and acceptance. When a client describes her discouraged feelings about being sandwiched, I know she is already on a productive path, because she is aware of the problem and can acknowledge her frustration.

Sometimes it’s tempting to ignore your feelings and jump to a quick rationalization like, “Well in a few years, my oldest will be headed off to college and then maybe I can focus on my interests.” If that works for you – perfect! If not, expressing and accepting your disappointment, or resentment (or whatever your emotion might be) is a great way to begin forming a meaningful life in the face of seemingly insurmountable restrictions.

Each individual possesses distinctive creative energies and solutions to bring to bear on any seriously stuck place. What about you? Have you ever found your way forward out of a sticky space? What steps did you take that proved to be beneficial? I’d love to hear about them and so might other readers.

Happy Sandwich Generation Month!

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