Carol Abaya

Skills for the Sandwich Generationer

It’s natural that when a Sandwich Generationer has to start doing things for a parent that the "take over" syndrome comes into play.  And it’s hard not to act quickly to "get things done."

Being a good parent to a parent, like being a parent to a child, is not instinctive.  It is a learned skill and needs to be worked on all the time.

While each relationship and scenario is different, two key words and the understanding of their implications can help Sandwich Generationers better handle this new role on the stage of life: acceptance and expectations.


Acceptance is the passport to better relations and self stress reduction. Each person is inherently worthy of being accepted as he or she is by virtue of having been born into the human race.  No one person’s abilities are any "better" or "worse" than anyone else’s.  They're just different.   Each person has different strengths and weaknesses.

Help an aging parent accept their strengths as well as weaknesses; to maintain the strengths and to be able to accept help in dealing with weaknesses.

Acceptance does not mean approving a parent’s behavior.  Acceptance should be aimed at the characteristics of the individual, rather than what the parent does or doesn’t do.

Sandwich Generationers also have to acknowledge their own feelings.  If a person ignores or represses feelings, there can be severe internal tolls on body and mind.

So, get in touch with both the elder’s and your own feelings.  Accept them.  Deal with them in constructive ways.  Feelings influence behavior, but they do not automatically control it.  The awareness of feelings gives a person more power to control events and relationships.


The scope of human expectations is wide and may not only be unrealistic but also destructive.  On the positive side, it may mean one person accepts another person’s expectations without putting his own in front of him/her.  On the destructive side, it may mean a person demands others to conform to his/her (unrealistic) standards of behavior or level of achievement.

So, Sandwich Generationers need to ask:

  • Are my expectations unrealistic given reality?
  • How do my expectations impact my relationship with my parent?
  • If a parent says "I can’t ....", is this reality?  Or is he afraid to try because of possible failure, or of falling down, or something else?

Reinforcement of an elder’s own feelings of self worth are very important.  Show a parent you have faith in him and value him for who he is, not what he can do.  At the same time, let him know you believe he has the resources to do as much as possible for himself.

If a person has trouble accepting the deteriorating condition of a parent and expectations are unrealistic, then the Sandwich Generationer needs to

  • Try to act as through he/she does accept the parent and does not expect anything more than that parent can do/give;
  • Make a conscious effect to broaden his/her own view of what is acceptable and doable; and
  • Bring his/her own ideal expectations more into line with reality.

This post originally appeared on


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