Sandwich Generation


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We have labels for generations to identify a particular group of people united by common experiences: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Sandwich Generation.  But, who knew there were actual celebrations for these generations?
Apparently, in July I missed the national observation of Sandwich Generation Month.  It is a “month of awareness to commemorate and celebrate the dedication, patience and caring of adults who are caring for their children as well as their own aging parents,” according to the National Special Events Registry.
I may have missed the month of celebration but I am definitely getting a taste of Sandwich Week. In fact Sunday was a Double-Decker-Day. Within the past five days I dropped off my eldest at college, was tapped to be the bad news phone caller to inform relatives of a great Aunt’s passing, shopped for school supplies and clothes for my younger children and made doctor and care arrangements for my own ailing mother. Talk about a “pickle,” even the clinic my mother goes to is called Mayo.
What really amazes me, though, is while my week may have been unusually compressed, it was not atypical for many of my friends. Most women are the primary caretakers in the family they raise and with increasing life spans they become the custodian of the generation above them too. In effect, we end up mothering our parents. Not surprisingly, the role of simultaneously caring for two generations with completely different needs and wants takes its toll.
As psychologist Tracy Covington points out, “Guardian” personality types such as mine are always spinning too many plates, and as a consequence, our bodies are stuck in a constant ‘Fight or Flight” response.  “A nervous system that is amped up at all times leaves us depleted.  While many parts of our body and brain have evolved since we were cavemen, the nervous system has not.  Our body doesn’t recognize the difference between a very large “to do” list or a tiger that is chasing us through the forest,” she explains. “This state of chronic ‘Fight or Flight’ leads to a greater susceptibility to  inflammatory diseases and compromises all of our relationships and quality of life.”
In her practice she tells her task-oriented clients to give themselves permission to un-hook from the process on a regular basis for the sake of their own health and well-being.
I plan to follow this advice immediately amidst a “to do” list that grew faster than I could say, “take your cleats off when you come in the house.” Planned interruptions of my obligations may be the only way to stay composed and  ready to tackle the significant challenges ahead.
I plan to schedule time with a friend for a walk or a cup of coffee – anything to get a clear head and a few laughs.  It may be the best thing I can do to prepare for those who really need me at my best for a timetable that won’t wait.
Carol Lewis Gullstad September 5, 2011


  1. Celeste Toth says:

    Permission to spend time with firends, love that!

  2. I just wish to thank Carol and Linda for the very fun interview a couple of weeks ago. It was delightful to visit this site again ( and read what you highlighted from the dialogue we shared. For those familiar with Dr. Keirsey, my husband’s mentor, ( all temperaments have their own inclination to “load up” life to overfill… but for different processes or reasons. Of course, as Carol so well noted, Guardians take the cake… (the fork, the plate, the…) when it comes to just that~plain, everyday serving of obligations and duty-ness. They have a servant’s heart. In their orientation to serve (e.g., the birth of this blog) they always will do that “one more thing.” They love to play, but only after the work (tasks, duties, to~do lists) is done!
    I am an IDEALIST (see Who Are WE at who tends to have a skewed sense of time. So, for example, most mornings… I always believe that I can do one more thing in that 2.3 minutes. I skew time and the awareness of how much time things take! I also, through my orientation to relationships, become laden with “I can’t do enough” for my “idealized” relationships. No matter which temperament we are (quadratic theory)… as this blog so well elucidates, we bless our life, health and community when we pause. Certainly, the pause that takes us to a place that re~sets our hearts, thoughts and actions allows for greater presence in our doing-ness.
    …pausing, breathing, and reading this awesome blog site!


  3. Fantastic writing and astute observations!


  1. […] Sandwich Generation: Permission to Take Breaks to Refuel […]

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