Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: The Sandwich Generation: Navigating Between Parents and Kids

According to the Pew Research Center, just over one of every eight Americans aged 40 to 60 is sandwiched between raising a child and caring for a parent. For many it is more than one child and more than one parent. Men and women are both members, although the caregivers are predominantly womenT

This means that members of the sandwiched generation are very often caught between the needs of their 12-year-old soccer star stressing on the field and their 75 year old Mom needing to be on time for a medical appointment.

While most would do anything for these loved ones, the reality is that  this can become a very difficult mission. Not only are there the challenges of competing needs and judgments from both sides; but often the worry of never getting it right.

Left unchecked, what gets overlooked are the personal needs, health, career and marriages of the sandwich generation. As such, it is worth considering some survival skills:

Sandwich Generation Survival Skills

The capacity to balance the needs of parents and children begins with self-care and includes believing in the power of loving attachments, seeking help from loved ones, using realistic optimism, practicing resilience, replacing worry with mindfulness, maintaining friends, and nurturing your marriage or personal relationship.

 Self-Care to Survive

Statistics reveal considerable physical and emotional risks for caregivers. It really isn’t true that “ Mothers Can’t Be Sick.” The more entitled you feel to watch and regulate your own stress, fatigue, and health needs, the more you give to those who need your care.

Loving Attachments

The fabric of loving attachments does not mean never saying “ NO” or never leaving a child or parent’s side. It means authentic loving in which you become attuned to the child or parent’s most urgent need and support them to meet it themselves, directly help them, or find someone to help you do that – while explaining why it can not be you. Revisiting what a child or parent feels and how they manage, resets and strengthens loving attachments.

  • Aunt Jackie brings Tim to soccer because you have to be with Grandpa at the doctor. But you and Time catch up later.
  • You listen to Grandma’s complaint that you don’t spend enough time with her and you agree, but remind her that you and Sophie, your 12 year old, are now there to play cards with her.

Seeking Help From Your Loving Attachments

Asking your child or parent to help you is a gift of purpose and trust that you invite them to take. You will be surprised how valuable this can be and how receptive those you are caring for may be.

  • Jack I know we need to talk about your driving the car on Friday night. Can you come with me to drop Grandpa at the doctor, he always enjoys being with you and we can speak as we wait.
  • Grandma, I have to take a call for work, could you play school with the girls so they can study for their tests by teaching you?
  • Heather could you watch Jeopardy with Grandpa-He Loves when you see him getting the correct answers.

 Realistic Optimism

  • When you have a lot to do,“ hoping for the best” is not a realistic strategy.
  • Realistic optimism involves actually analyzing the situation and coming up with a problem solving plan, executing the plan and assuming the best.
  • What if the plan doesn’t work? Learn from it and keep going.

 Practicing Special Forces Resilience

According to scientists like Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney, whose studies found that we can build resilience, the brains of resilient people like Navy Seals showed that they shut off the stress response and return to baseline quickly after a traumatic event. Essentially, if the mission doesn’t work – they let it go and move on.

This is a very powerful strategy for the mind and body of caregivers.

Reduce Worry With Positive Distractions and Mindfulness Meditation

  • If worry does not serve as a motivator to plan or act in a constructive way – like helping a child find a play date or making a social plan for a senior, it is not constructive.
  • Worry about what we can’t control depletes and jeopardizes future problem solving and functioning.
  • Once way for sandwiched parents to reduce worry and stress is to replace it with a personal constructive distraction – exercise, music, art, reading etc.
  • When we only have a few moments, a powerful antidote to worry is mindfulness and meditation. This may sound complicated but is actually easier than worry.
  • Mindfulness is simply attunement to what you are feeling or thinking in the moment. For example, if you catch yourself worrying about your child or parent, you can stop, take a deep breath and move into what expert Sharon Salzberg calls a Loving-Kindness Mediation.
  • Instead of worrying what will happen if your son isn’t picked for the team or how grandpa will feel leaving his house, replace worry with a loving mantra. Thinking of your loved one,  say to yourself some version of:

“ May you be free of danger, May you have mental happiness, May you have physical happiness, May you have ease of well-being.”

         Essentially in minutes, you have moved from a negative body and mind place to connection in a positive and loving way   with your child or parent. It is a win-win for you and them.

 Friends- The power of friendships is a crucial resource for the Sandwich Generation because so many can resonate with the jobs and joys of caring for loved ones. So often friends are creative in pairing elderly parents for social connections, swapping kids, sharing car pools, supplying each other’s family with dinner- all in the spirit of love and connection.

 Marriage and Primary Relationships

  • Caring for parents and children cannot equate to overlooking or losing your marriage or primary relationship.
  • Nurturing your relationship is a gift to you and your spouse.
  • So many Sandwich Generation parents are both working that a team approach becomes invaluable.
  • The strength to manage the needs of parents and children comes with setting aside time and activities that you love to share together.
  • It means at times saying “ No” to parents and children for the sake of the marriage.
  • It means feeling entitled to plan for each other the way you have planned for the many others in your lives.
  • You need your relationship for energy, joy and fulfillment.


Your Parents and Children need you to be Happy and Healthy


Listen in on Psych Up Live –Guest, Dr. Suniya Luthar discusses, “ Middle School Moms-The Most Stressed of All”