Health & Wellness

Stuck in the Middle: Thriving in the Multi-Generational Squeeze

Alexandria, VA – Welcome to our new regular series in the Zebra – all about families.

 

Let’s get real for a second. Being sandwiched between your kids, grandkids, and parents isn’t just challenging – it’s a full-on emotional rollercoaster that can leave you feeling drained, overwhelmed, and questioning your sanity. Trust me, I’ve been there.

 

I spent this past week on just such a roller coaster. At least 14 Tylenol, a number of frustrating conflicts, whining kids, and sleepless nights later, I’m here to tell you: it’s intense, but we can handle it.

 

As a mom of four young adults, Mimi to three little ones, and daughter to parents in their 70s and 80s, I’m right there in the trenches with you. And let me tell you, it’s not always pretty. But here’s the thing – it doesn’t have to break you. In fact, with the right mindset and tools, you can turn this crazy situation into an opportunity for growth and fulfillment.

 

First things first, let’s talk about your brain. When you’re constantly juggling the needs of multiple generations, your stress response goes into overdrive. Your amygdala – that tiny almond-shaped part of your brain responsible for emotions – is working overtime. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental health issues if left unchecked.

 

But here’s the good news: you have the power to change this. Your brain is incredibly adaptable, and with consistent effort, you can rewire it to better handle the stress of your multi-generational responsibilities. How? It starts with a simple countdown.

 

The next time you feel overwhelmed by a screaming toddler, a midnight call from your college kid, or the realization that you need to schedule another doctor’s appointment for your mom, try this: Count backward from 5. 5-4-3-2-1. Then take action. This simple trick activates your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for decision-making and rational thought. It interrupts the stress response and gives you a moment to choose your reaction.

 

Now, let’s talk about those young adult kids. They’re finding their way in the world, and sometimes that means calling mom for advice (or money) at 2 AM. It’s okay to set boundaries. In fact, it’s crucial. Remember, you’re not doing them any favors by always being available. In fact, you might be sending a subtle message that you think they can’t handle things on their own. So the next time that late-night call comes in, ask yourself: “Is this an emergency, or can it wait until morning?” Trust me, they’ll surprise you.

 

Then there are the grandkids – those adorable little energy vampires that light up your world and drain your battery at the same time. Here’s a hard truth: you don’t have to be superhuman. Quality time really wins over quantity every time. So instead of trying to do it all, focus on creating meaningful moments. We had a carpet picnic last week and ate pie straight out of the tin, and that was apparently the highlight of beach week! These are the memories they’ll cherish, not how many hours you logged.

 

And let’s not forget about your parents. Watching them age isn’t easy, and the role reversal can be emotionally challenging. But avoiding tough conversations about their care won’t make the situation any easier. Have those difficult talks now, while they can still participate in the decision-making process. Future you will be grateful. Also, listening to the story about that fishing trip when the boat broke down for the 8th time isn’t particularly entertaining but future you will also be grateful for the time spent with your parents now while they are still around.

 

Now, about your career. It’s easy to let work take a backseat when family demands are high, but don’t lose sight of your professional goals. Your career is an important part of who you are. Set clear boundaries between work and family time. Communicate your needs to both your employer and your family. Remember, you’re modeling behavior for your kids and grandkids. Show them that it’s possible to have a fulfilling career and a rich family life.

 

Finally, let’s talk about you. Yes, you. When was the last time you did something just for yourself? If you can’t remember, that’s a problem. Self-care isn’t selfish – it’s necessary. Schedule regular “me time” and treat it as non-negotiable. Whether it’s a yoga class, a quiet cup of coffee, or a hobby you love, make time for activities that recharge your batteries.

 

Here’s the bottom line: navigating life in the sandwich generation isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. It requires intentional action, clear communication, and a commitment to taking care of yourself. Remember, you can’t effectively support your family if you’re running on empty.

 

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the push and pull of multiple generations, take a deep breath, count backward from 5, and take action. You’ve got this. And who knows? You might just find that being in the middle of this generational sandwich, despite the Tylenol and the whining, is the sweetest spot of all.

Got questions? Need support? Connect with our practice on social @wisefamilies and with me @heydoctoramy! Let’s make your family life as awesome as it can be!

@heydoctoramy

Dr. Amy Fortney Parks has over 30 years of experience as an educator, psychologist, and clinical supervisor. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology, specializing in child and adolescent developmental neuroscience. Dr. Parks founded WISE Family Wellness in Alexandria and the Clinical Supervision Directory. She is a clinical supervisor, adjunct professor, international speaker, podcast host of *Supervision Simplified*, and soon-to-be author. A native Alexandrian, she enjoys reading teen fiction, mixing Bloody Marys, and hanging with friends who have boats. Connect with her on social @heydoctorparks.

ICYMI: Habits for a Happier Family Life

Amy Parks

Dr. Amy Fortney Parks has over 30 years of experience as an educator, psychologist, and clinical supervisor. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology, specializing in child and adolescent developmental neuroscience. Dr. Parks founded WISE Family Wellness and the Clinical Supervision Directory. She is a clinical supervisor, adjunct professor, international speaker, podcast host of *Supervision Simplified*, and soon-to-be author. A native Alexandrian, she enjoys reading teen fiction, mixing Bloody Marys, and hanging with friends who have boats. Connect with her on social @heydoctoramy

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