The Gramma Sandwich Generation

Written by Elaine McAllister, Author and Friend of Legacy Coalition

For several years, I was a member of an unofficial yet exhausting group – The Gramma Sandwich Generation!

I wasn’t alone. Others were caring for grandchildren and parents at the same time, but it takes a toll. We joyfully watch one generation gain independence while watching another generation decline. It’s emotionally draining to celebrate with one and grieve for the other.

Life is Similar…From Beginning to End.

Babies are dependent upon others for everything. Elders become more dependent on others and it’s not by choice. Some age more gracefully than others. Thanks to the onset of dementia, some are totally oblivious to their decline.

Grandbabies grow toward independence with each first. First steps. First words.

Parents struggle to relinquish their independence. Wouldn’t you? They try to control all they can for as long as they can, and with their loss of independence comes a feisty attitude like that of a defiant toddler.

Toddlers and elders both need help to eat, balance, walk, and even potty. We give up bibs once we’re able to guide a spoon to our open mouth, and then we rely on them again when shaky hands fail us. We go from diapers to Depends and – if we’re lucky – we enjoy several decades in between.

The elders cling to cold, aluminum contraptions to maintain their balance. Toddlers are supported by bright, colorful walkers with buzzers and toys that perfectly fit their chubby little hands. We patiently help little ones and celebrate their first step, yet we whisper to siblings as we watch our parents lose mobility. “Did you see that? Dad almost fell.” or “Mom can’t keep her balance anymore – what are we going to do?”

Communication has similarities, too. We celebrate every barely-intelligible word as our grandkids make their needs known. What they lack in language skills is often seen in tears. Right? Yet, when our parents lose their ability to communicate or reason, our patience wears thin. Believe me, theirs does, too. Tears are often a result: theirs and ours.

Are You in This Generation?

I recently ran into a friend at the store buying groceries for her homebound mother. She was in a hurry because she had to pick up her grandson after school, take him home, and then deliver the groceries. She’s in the midst of a Gramma Sandwich.

Another friend faces resistance whenever she encourages her dad to stay mobile by walking every hour or so in his home. A sedentary lifestyle has resulted in legs that don’t always support him when he stands…so he just sits. Advice from his daughter is not well-received because it signals his loss of independence. It’s a tough spot for my friend.

Four Tips for Caregivers

When we parent our parents, roles are reversed and life can be tough. I learned a lot at that stage of life. Let me share four tips that might help if you’re in the Gramma Sandwich Generation:

1. Be your parent’s advocate.

Let your parent speak for herself/himself (with doctors, etc.) as long as possible, but listen well and do your best to understand your parent’s perspective. A parent who is really heard is more open to calm discussion and persuasion if it’s needed. In addition, when you need to be their voice, you are better able to speak for them when you understand.

2. Don’t rush your parent.

The elderly often require time to think through things and make decisions. My mom was an experienced driver yet months before it was “time” I asked her to tell me whenever she felt it was unsafe for her to drive. Thankfully, she did, so I didn’t have to ask for her keys. Decisions made by a parent are easier than forced decisions.

3. Strive to be a compassionate caregiver.

Don’t be resentful or sarcastic (your actions will show). Some parent-child relationships are strained. If that’s you, I pray for a bit of healing. Your parent doesn’t want to be a burden and needs to know you are choosing to help rather than feeling it’s your duty. Do your best to be a loving caregiver.

4. Take care of yourself!

Caregiving is exhausting! Do not devote yourself to it 24/7 – find helpers and resources so you’re not bearing the load alone. Set boundaries. Make time to meet a friend for coffee or play pickleball. Go out for dinner. Read a book. Do something you find relaxing. To be a good caregiver you must first care for yourself.

Conclusion

This journey requires patience and self-control. I bit my tongue at times. Tears were shed. I’m no expert at living in the Gramma Sandwich, but I’m thankful I was able to do so. At the same time, I enjoyed our grandkids (in fact, my mom met her sixth great-grandchild just days before she passed).

Months earlier there was a day when my mom was particularly harsh with me; questioning my motives on everything which was totally out of character. I was her sole caregiver and was doing the best I could but on that day, I could have said an ice cube was cold and she would have disagreed.

As I drove away that day, the tears came. I called my aunt (Mom’s little sister) to vent. She cried with me, then shared something I’ve never forgotten: Trust is a function of a rational mind! Oh, how those words ministered to my soul.

My aunt explained that my mom was no longer able to think rationally so she was also unable to trust. Deteriorating health had affected her reasoning. I realized that day I’d already “lost” my mom – this was the beginning of the end.

The rest of the journey was simply living alongside Mama, loving her, and walking her home. 

7 thoughts on “The Gramma Sandwich Generation”

  1. Thank you Elaine – we have just begun entering this season of ‘sandwich’ and I read your words carefully. I especially appreciate the nudge to pray for healing in those strained relationships. : )

  2. Joanna Ridgeway

    This is exactly where I am at and all my feelings exactly. Thanks so much for sharing. It helps to not feel alone.

  3. Thank you. I have a 96 year old mom who is in assisted living in another state. We visit at least once a month. I have 5 local grandchildren and one of them is autistic and requires extra help. I have felt sandwiched between helping both my mom and my daughter/grandkids. It’s easy to let my health slip. Recently I have been intentional about taking care of my health so I can be healthy to continue to help and bless others.

  4. It’s an interesting season, no doubt. May God RICHLY bless you, as you take it one day at a time. I’m not perfect but in both roles (grandparenting and parenting my parents) my goal is/was to have no regrets……I must say, so far, so good! Celebrate both roles well, Jane!!!!

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