Hey Millennials, JUST TO LET YOU KNOW…. ya might need to sit on the sidelines for this one. Us Gen-Xer’s are dealing with a meal we didn’t even know we ordered. Sorry Tanya Zukerbrot, I doubt you’d find it F-Factor approved unless of course we replace the high fiber intake with a high oh fuck intake then perhaps the dish might very well become the Unpolished version of The F-Factor! The unpolished meal, otherwise known as The Sandwich Generation isn’t printed on any menu but you might see it served in droves at a buffet during an early bird special. This sandwich is a generation of people usually in their mid 40’s and 50’s whom are responsible for bringing up their own young children while also caring for their aging parents.
Have you lost your appetite yet?
It’s not exactly a piece of cake.
The sandwich is stuffed with the toggle of trying to fulfill the needs of both your little kids and your parents at the same time. It’s quite a balancing act of multiple responsibilities and one I suspect impossible to master. I’ve never been a picky eater, in fact I eat almost anything, but can I get a waitress over here? Is there another option on the invisible menu of life when your child is graduating from elementary school at exactly the same time your aging parent has an important doctor appointment you think it’s necessary to attend? How do you sanely navigate the distribution of time when all the proverbial circus balls (work, kids, elderly parents and normal daily routines) are up in the air and your juggling is novice at best?
Intellectually, I know one person can’t physically be in two places at once but even with sound reasoning on the side of the plate, I don’t wanna eat that sandwich. Why? Because the bread is glopping with emotional angst, uncertainty, fear and an unprecedented caloric overload of [Jewish] guilt.
The unpolished nature is to be everything to everyone. For our babies we do it all because well, it’s our job. We’re the parents and they’re the kids. We know the pecking order of exactly who’s in charge and it makes perfect sense. Conversely, when it comes to watching our once vibrant, youthful, do-it-themselves parents now become not so vibrant and not so youthful and not so equipped to do-it-themselves the lines get skewed and the roles begin to shift. The imminency of becoming elderly, potentially getting sick and then facing mortality isn’t something fixable but we want or at the very least, think we should swoop in, Purell our hands and save the day. But how? Are we attacking the sandwich by picking it up with both hands and biting right into the center ignoring that some of the condiments might ooze out and make a mess or do we pull the sandwich apart using a fork and knife in an attempt to chew it bite by bite with grace and dignity? And who even decides which way is right and which way is wrong? It’s not like the answer is black and white [cookie].
Being sandwiched between raising my young children and now entering into a new dimension of life with my own aging parents has left me with many unanswered questions. This is an area I’m humbled enough to admit I know little to nothing about and therefore have had to seek the advice of others more experienced to gain their knowledge and wisdom. As a result, I’ve gathered some worthwhile albeit unpolished insight on the matter over the last several months.
- ORGANIZATION IS KEY. In order to swallow this sandwich with the least amount of indigestion you gotta get your unpolished shit together. Sit down and make a list of all the important things you need to know. This especially applies if the waters are unchartered and you’ve never captained the ship before. Why? Because knowledge is power and the more information you have now the better when it’s time to set sail on choppy seas. Names and phone numbers of every doctor relevant to your parents’ healthcare should be readily available. Same applies for attorneys, estate planners and financial advisors. Unless you’re looking for undue family drama, knowing ahead of time who has power of attorney and the like should tough decisions need to be made will save an unpolished potential nightmare as will also having an upfront handle on finances. Healthcare costs can be a cause of great stress and when it comes to spending money, no one likes surprises so be direct and get everything out on the table. It may seem nominal now, but it’s additionally critical to keep track of codes, pins and passwords. Home computers, cell phones, alarm codes, garage door key pads and safety deposit boxes are just some examples of what you’ll
wantneed easy access to in order to avoid a frustrating situation down the road. Once the roles reverse, you’ll have no choice but to become privy to the secret society of information you once knew nothing about!
- ASK FOR HELP. This should seem simple, but for an unpolished person like me it’s much harder than getting my organizational ducks in a row. Why? Because asking for help requires us to be vulnerable. We have to recognize we aren’t superheroes who can give 100% of ourselves to 100% of our loved ones 100% of the time. We need to be strong enough to accept our weaknesses and wave the white flag when we feel like we’re burning it from both ends of the candle. If you’re lucky enough to have sibling(s), this is the leg in the Game of Life when you pass the baton and let someone else pick up the slack. Sharing the responsibilities can be difficult however if your siblings are not geographically desirable. That said, while they obviously can’t be the anchor day in and day out, you can ask for them to throw in a life vest of emotional support to help stay afloat. In an effort to keep everyone on the same page, the lines of communication must consistently flow.
- OWN YOUR FEELINGS. Let’s face it, when the storm blows in, it’s scary out there. It’s okay to feel uneasy about the unknown. Instead of hiding how you feel, come clean with those you trust about the wind brewing in your mind. If you don’t have siblings, a partner or a spouse’s shoulder to cry on at night, lean on other family members, a friend or hire a therapist to confide in. Once you open up, you’ll be amazed how many other people are choking down the same sandwich. It’s cathartic to vent about the many emotional flavors of feelings as it can help us become
- LOVE WITHOUT CONDITION. Try to remember if this sandwich lacks the nourishment you’re used to, it’s likely even more undernourishing for your aging parents. Be patient and empathetic. Be understanding and calm. Love without condition. For many, our parents have given all of themselves to us, their children; and as life continues to cycle, giving back to them now is part of loving without condition. Ask questions. Tell stories. Continue to make new memories while treasuring the old ones. Fall back on the valuable lessons your parents taught you as a child in order to push forward to be the source of strength and resilience they now may need. Reiterate to them the very insights they instilled in you. Not only will it validate your respect for their teachings but it will also send the message their wisdom has been and continues to be the sustenance guiding and feeding your soul which should no doubt yield an enormous sense of parental pride for their own unpolished plate!
- LEVITY FOR LONGEVITY. The only way to savor this lingering sandwich is to wash it down with levity. Why? Because it is the most important component of the entire meal! The best medicine to help cure any illness or at the very least assuage the pain, has always and will always be laughter. Keeping this unpolished perspective on the tip of your tongue will help your palate to enhance tasting the joys and sweetness of life no matter how heavy the sandwich may appear at first. Don’t ever allow yourself to get too weighed down on the meat and potatoes that you forget to save room for the family flambé of funny for dessert. Even if you have to unbutton your pants, never pass up the opportunity to slam down a heaping load of levity. Trust me, it’ll unpolishedly prolong everyone’s longevity for life!