Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Sandwich Generation

     All marriages go through seasons—times of seemingly overwhelming stress, or ecstatic joy, or maybe even a unique mixture of both.  With lifespans getting longer on average, one of the increasingly common seasons a couple might find themselves in is “the sandwich generation.”
     The sandwich generation refers to people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children, but also for the care of their aging parents.  If you are caught in that generation, you know it presents a season of life that can be very taxing on your marriage relationship.
     Couples in the sandwich generation often feel like they are caught in a tug-of-war between their children’s needs, their parents’ needs, and their spouse’s needs.  It is emotionally painful to feel like you can’t win, and that no matter what you do, someone will always have to be put on the backburner.  Being trapped in the sandwich generation generates feelings of guilt.  Even as you are doing all you possibly can to stomp out the nearest fire and serve everyone, it can leave you feeling like a negligent parent, hardhearted child, and an uncaring spouse all at the same time.
     As you and your spouse walk through this season together, here are a few things that might make it easier:

  • Don’t neglect yourself physically.  You must tend to basic self-care.  Things such as adequate sleep, a regular and healthy diet, and frequent exercise are crucial to being able to survive this season.  Remember, you cannot take care of others if you have nothing left in your tank physically to give.  And, when we neglect the things our bodies require, it can drastically affect us emotionally.  We are much more likely to be stressed out, short-tempered, and irritable.  If you constantly have to go back and apologize for snapping at others, then it will just add stress to an already stressful time.
  • Don’t neglect yourself emotionally.  Just like physical health is necessary to care for others, so is emotional health.  Make sure you have healthy outlets to vent your stress, frustration, anger, sadness, guilt, joy, or whatever other emotions you are feeling.  Bottling them up will only suppress them until inopportune times for them to boil over.  And, especially if it is your in-laws requiring care, remember to remind your spouse that you are there for him/her when he/she needs someone to lean on.  Don’t wait for your spouse to ask for emotional support and reassurance.
  • Don’t neglect your marriage.  Just like physical and emotional self-care is required during this season, so is basic marriage-care.  It can be easy to assume your spouse is okay and self-sufficient when parents and children are pulling at you from opposite directions.  It can even be tempting to denigrate your mate for wanting some of your time and attention too.  But don’t neglect the crucial components of a healthy marriage.  Communicate frequently.  Consistently share daily schedules and notify each other when changes are on the horizon (especially big changes like the possibility of a parent moving in with you).  When things change with children or parents, verbally communicate expectations you and your spouse have for each other instead of assuming your mate will pick up the slack or be aware of your new expectations.  Handle conflict as it comes rather than letting it pile up.  During this season, don’t neglect your sex life or other forms of intimacy that keep you and your spouse connected.
  • Accept your limitations.  You are not Superman or Wonder Woman.  As mentioned above, when you push yourself too hard physically or emotionally, you will eventually crash.  Give your mate permission to love you enough to lovingly sound the alarm when you’re approaching burnout.
  • Accept help.  God created us to live in community.  Accept your mate’s help, and accept the help of family, your church community, friends, and others around you.  The day will come when you can help ease someone else’s burden—but for now, let someone else ease yours.
  • Guard your heart against resentment.  Whether it is frustration at a spouse for not helping enough or understanding enough, anger against your in-laws for taking away your mates time and attention, bitterness against your children for not being more self-sufficient, or disappointment at yourself for not being able to do more, the devil is always looking for an entry point to plant seeds of dissension in your marriage.
  • Keep your spiritual cup filled.  During this season of life, stay grounded in God’s Word, fervent in prayer, and overflowing with forgiveness, grace, and kindness.  Continually pray with your matenot just for your mate, but with your mate, so that you can hear each others hearts before God and stay strong in Christ together.

     The sandwich generation is a tough place to be.  It feels like you are constantly being squeezed by the expectations and demands of others.  During this time, it is important to care for your children.  And it is important to care for your parents.  But it is most important to care for your marriage.  Children will grow up and leave.  Parents will pass on to their reward.  But your spouse is with you “until death do you part.”  And that covenant relationship is a blessed promise that you need to nurture above all else.

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