The responsibilities of being in the middle

The responsibilities of being in the middle

By The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

Most of us face a time in our lives, somewhere between our late 30’s and our early 50’s, when we become members of the “sandwich” generation. We have children of our own, perhaps at home, at college, or starting a career, who still need us as parents, even though it may be in considerably different ways than when they were younger.

At the same time, we may have our own parents who are now beginning to experience some of the physical limitations that normally come with aging. While these limitations are not necessarily crippling, our parents may be feeling the frustration of not being able to do everything they could a few short years before. They find they are not as independent as they might like to be, and they may be turning to us more often for assistance with various matters.

We still have responsibilities for parenting our children while, at the same time, our roles are changing with our own parents, sometimes to the point where we may be taking on the role of parent to them as well. As our children are becoming more independent (something for which most of us are glad), our parents may be becoming more dependent on us to do things or make decisions for them, and we are caught in the middle–“sandwiched” between our children and our parents.

Such a situation can bring with it frustrations and problems, especially in light of our own situations. Many of us will be mid-career, probably enjoying our peak earning years. We may be at a job level with considerable supervisory responsibility, or have become self-employed. Career wise, this can often be a time of considerable stress and responsibility, and one that may demand a great deal of our time and attention.

The frustration, of course, is in finding the time to deal with the demands our children and parents may also be placing upon us. A good starting point may be in examining the situation for your own children. They are struggling for independence. Do what you can to allow them increasing amounts of responsibility and commensurate freedom to run their own lives.

For most people, letting go of the parenting role is not always easy. One way to lessen the blow is to keep the lines of communication open. Invite your children to share concerns or questions as they arise. Treat them, as much as possible, as adults in providing answers and advice. But also let them know that they will be expected to initiate more of the conversations. That responsibility is part of their growing independence.

This can free you up somewhat to deal with your changing role with your own parents. While you will certainly invite them to share any concerns or ask any questions regarding finances, health and other issues, you may also find that it is you who will need increasingly to initiate these conversations.

You will have to ask about how they are doing and perhaps even be insistent to get complete answers. You may want to check with them to be sure that they are getting the healthcare they need, paying their bills on time, and managing their finances properly.

In a sense, the responsibility that you are shedding in regard to your children is what you will be picking up with your parents. And if you look at it in that light, it can help make the burden lighter. If you can see it not as added responsibility, but as a continuation of responsibility, you may be able to minimize the frustration. If you have brothers and sisters, it can also be a relief to have a family conference to discuss how these responsibilities for your parents can be shared with one another.

And, of course, if things do not go as well as you would like, there are always counseling professionals who can be of assistance. Family counseling is multi-generational in nature, and it often helps to be able to discuss the concerns you experience with a third party.

The issues stemming from having aging parents are a common problem today. Many counselors deal with it on a regular basis and can provide significant help. Check with your local council on aging, senior citizen center or look in the phone directory under “counselors” if you feel a professional counselor could help you in dealing with your “sandwich” situation.

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