The WHO’s guide to making Age-friendly Cities states that social connections are hugely important to maintaining good health and well-being throughout life. This week’s blog comes from Claire Gillman, a journalist and author of the book We Are The Sandwich Generation: Keeping Everyone Happy. The book concentrates on the challenges faced by the Sandwich Generation, who combine looking after young children with caring for older loved ones. Claire explains how time constraints mean that, for many “sandwich carers“, time spent with family can become focussed solely on the provision of care, rather than quality moments of bonding. This blog features tips from Claire’s book on some of the ways that “sandwich carers” can bring all the generations of their family together to spend some quality time.
As we pack away the decorations for another year, life returns to normal after the festivities of the Christmas and New Year period. For many of us, a concerted effort is made to connect with family at this time of year, but getting all the generations together throughout the year on a regular basis is perhaps something we should be thinking about trying to do more often.
In part, I am a strong advocate of spending fun time with both the younger and older elements of the family because I learnt from experience that it is all too easy for time with loved ones to become an endless string of chores or dashing from one commitment to the next with only fleeting time for catching up in-between.
At the time of my father’s stroke, we lived 250 miles away and had two young sons. My mother was struggling to cope with my wheelchair-bound dad and his dementia was getting hard for her to handle on her own. So, we moved them to a bungalow 100 yards up the road from us and another five years of caring for my dad and supporting my mum ensued.
It was during this period that I came to understand what it means to be a fully paid up member of the Sandwich Generation. I was definitely drowning not waving as daily commitments to my parents plus obligations to attend games of football/rugby and other school/leisure activities took their toll. I was also working freelance as a national journalist so I was spread pretty thin.
Yet, being a journalist proved to be a blessing in disguise. I felt sure that there was a better way to navigate the precarious route of helping older and younger members of my family whilst still carving some time for myself and my husband. In the spirit of professional enquiry, I started to research a book that would share not only my own hard-won discoveries but also the advice of experts who were happy to speak to a writer, and also the numerous other men and women that I canvassed in search of good advice. This resulted in my book, We Are The Sandwich Generation: Keeping Everyone Happy which has just been updated and republished.
There is a wealth of wonderful advice and sharing in the book but high on the list of recommendations is that we each make a commitment to spending quality time with both older and younger members of the family rather than just doing the essentials. Easier said than done, I hear you cry… but it is possible. And communicating with each other is the key.
One older lady explained that she felt she had no right to complain that she missed chatting with her daughter when her daughter had been kind enough to do the shopping for her (and then had to rush off to pick up the children). Once she plucked up the courage to talk about how she felt, they came to an arrangement whereby the older lady paid for an online shopping delivery (ordered by her daughter), and they spent that ‘shopping time’ having coffee and a catch up.
In a similar vein, an active set of grand-parents who had childcare responsibilities three-times a week found that their only conversation with their stressed-out daughter was a speedily downloaded situation report as she collected her children at the end of the day. All of them believed they were seeing a lot of each other, but they were not having any valued time together. The answer? A regular date at the carvery for Sunday lunch once a month so all three generations could relax together and no-one had to cook.
And it works both ways. If your grown-up children come to visit, don’t land them with a string of jobs each time. Sometimes, those chores can wait and a good chinwag over a cuppa or watching the match together is far more rewarding and pleasurable.
I recognise that sometimes situations are more serious and practical help is required – and there’s advice on these circumstances too in the book – but when there are three active generations involved, then communicating with each other about how current arrangements make you feel and then collaborating to find a way around the obstacles in order to make quality time for each other has to be the overriding message of We are the Sandwich Generation.
To find out more about Claire’s book We Are The Sandwich Generation: Keeping Everyone Happy, please visit: www.clairegillman.com.
To learn more about the work of Age UK London, please visit: www.agefriendlylondon.org.uk