Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

We Welcome Elaine Williams this morning, who is here to discuss her recently published book.

Why did you write A Journey Well Take: Life After Loss?

I wrote it initially for myself, but then realized that other women needed to read it. It's not just my experience but it's something many will go through. I wanted others to realize that even though their grief is unique, there are untold similarities in the universal process. None of us are alone. Once you suffer such a loss, your life changes. Not only in the obvious ways, but also emotionally and sometimes financially.

You were a caretaker for your husband during his illness?

Yes, with the esophagus cancer he couldn't eat and he was on heavy narcotics for pain control. Even though I wrote down everything, in the early days I was terrified of giving him an overdose. Once we signed up with hospice, they worked on his pain protocol constantly. I had always thought of hospice for end-of-life situations, but my sister-in-law, a nurse, told me pain control was their forte. Unfortunately, most regular doctors don’t know too much about long-term pain control.

You stated in A Journey Well Taken; Life After Loss, you were devastated by the loss of your husband of twenty years. Are you still feeling that devastation, four years later?

Some days it's still there, but not the total well of emptiness I carried for almost three years. I am cognizant of what my children and I have lost, what our lives could have been, but I’m no longer drained by the loss. My life is taking different directions. I have learned to love my life.

Do your kids talk about their dad?

Yes, we all do. My youngest boys are still home and we reminisce at times about funny incidences or remembrances involving their dad. My oldest, because he moved away, didn't have as much interaction in this manner, but I feel this really helped us, not being afraid to remember.

Do you think people in general understand the grief process?

Not entirely. Many times people think a year is the cut-off for grieving and you should be feeling better. A year is nothing in the grieving process. Some days you think you’re okay, then one day you’re driving along and you start crying. In grief, emotions seesaw without rhyme or reason. There is no right way to do it, and it’s in each individual’s time. You can’t hurry the process, but you can know that life does heal and become joyful again. If you allow life to come back to you, you will be blessed in unexpected and joyous ways.

Elaine, we appreciate your honest responses to some difficult questions. Now, Readers, please click on "Comments" below - ask your questions and share your own experiences with others.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

As our readers said yesterday, during hard times friendships really matter.

It may be difficult for you to ask for help if you’re used to being the one who provides it. Perhaps you believe that your self-esteem comes from not needing to depend on others. Now is the time to recognize that, being human, you can receive as well as give support.

Don't hesitate to buddy up with a friend who is going through similar changes. Accept her love and encouragement as you allow her to feel good about being able to help you. Your friends can provide a supportive network, only if you let them in.

Giving as well as receiving support is beneficial. When you offer as well as accept friendship, you'll find you are healthier over time. As the 17th century British playwright, Hada Bejar, said, “The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose.”

Whether it's a casual dinner after work or a weekend away at a spa, monthly book clubs or weekly exercise workouts, don't you love to get together with other women? Friendship shapes who we are and who we are yet to become. If friends counter the stress that swallows up much of our time, are such a source of strength and nourishment, keep us healthy and even add years to our life, we owe it to ourselves to find the time to be with them. It's crucial to our well-being.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Over the next couple of days we'll be giving some tips for you Sandwiched Boomers, as you look at your friendships and begin to build on them.

Appreciate your friends and give these relationships the time and attention they need in order to blossom. Turning to other women for support can provide strength to help you cope as you face challenges with your family in flux.

Women’s friendships can be complicated. What you need from each other, and the intensity and frequency of these needs, can lead to some misunderstandings. Hang in there during the rough periods.

Friendships change throughout life. When you're young, friends help form your identity. In adolescence, with peer pressure, your sense of self depends on what you see reflected in their eyes. When you know who you are, how friends see you seems less important. But they can play an even more significant role in your life.

Studies have found that social ties reduce our risk of disease and help us live longer. Friends also help us live better. The 'tend and befriend' notion, developed by Drs. Shelley Taylor and Laura Klein, may explain why women consistently outlive men. the famed Nurses' Health Study from Harvard Medical School determined that the larger the number of friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to lead a joyful life.

And that's not all. Research about how well women function after their spouse has died indicates that, even in the face of this severest stressor, those women who have a close friend and confidante are more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality.

Learn more about this when you join us anytime this Thursday for our Virtual Book Tour. Our guest will be Elaine Williams, who wrote "A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss" after the death of her husband.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

As Sandwiched Boomers, don't you agree that your women friends are a gift that you give yourself?

Without a doubt, intimate friendships have always been important to women. But they become even more so as you face the transitions of children growing up and parents growing older. Findings from a recent MacArthur Foundation Study indicate that the emotional security and social support that these relationships provide for women have been a survival strategy for them in adversity. In fact, friendship is one of the keys to a long and more satisfying life.

A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with brain chemicals that cause us to maintain friendships with other women. Until this study was published, scientists generally thought that stress triggered a hormonal cascade that prepared the body either to stay and fight or to flee. Now they believe that women have more behavioral choices than just fight or flight. It seems that, when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the stress response in women, they react by tending to children and coming together with other women. When they engage in these activities, more hormones are released, further reducing stress and producing a calming effect.

This week we'll be offering tips about enriching friendships and welcome your observations and ideas.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

All week we have looked at how to make your staycation just as unique for your family as past vacations away from home. And each of you will find different ways to enjoy that special time together. Yesterday two readers talked about activities close to home that were meaningful to them. Rhea was looking forward to an ethnic festival in her hometown and another woman was planning a trip to her local art museum. What can you discover in your community?

The decision to spend your vacation at home this summer can deepen the bonds and transform your family. Without either the tension that travel creates or the stress of considerable expenditures in this uncertain economy, you will find that the time socializing with family this year is more relaxing than ever. And as a Sandwiched Boomer with so many responsibilities as you care for your growing children and aging parents, you deserve this rest and respite. Your staycation can help carry you through the year ahead with your enriched family relationships. So instead of "bon voyage," it's "bonnes vacances a la maison!"

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two readers used the comment section yesterday to tell us about their family staycations. Elaine talked about how she and her kids would go to their favorite creek watering hole, called "Flat Rocks" and just hang out for the afternoon - swimming, lazing in the sun, splashing while she read a good book. "Family time was what it's all about," she said. Another comment was about how their family enjoyed making videos, pretending they were television shows - everyone, including the children, got to participate. Both of these women were creating memories to last through the years.

Here are some more ideas to help you choose activities for your staycation. Sandwiched Boomers, caring for growing children and aging parents, often put themselves last in the process. This time, do some things to enrich yourself too.

Explore your immediate surroundings and discover something new. Take a city bus tour and see the sights that you've never noticed before. Expand your horizons and those of your family members. Visit a museum near you - often they offer entrance fee free days or discounts for local patrons. Participate together in a creative activity like ceramic painting or a mini-course in photography at the community center. Visit the campus of a local college and wander through the library. You may uncover an interest you never realized you had.

Remember to include the universal vacation ritual - take lots of photos and videos to share with your friends. Looking at the pictures of your family's smiling faces will enhance your memories of the special times you spent together. Continue the feelings of togetherness by creating an album commemorating your first family staycation.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So how do you, as a Sandwiched Boomer, really get to enjoy your staycation when you are still on familiar ground? Do things differently!

Act as you would on your typical vacation away from home. Go to bed and get up when you want - don't set your alarm clock. Let the kids stay up past their bedtime if you are doing something out of the ordinary. Enjoy a special breakfast out one day. Relax in the sun and read a page-turner or amusing beach book. Exercise in ways that aren't easy while you are working - a morning tennis or golf game, a midday horseback ride through the countryside, a leisurely hike at sunset. Splurge on a night out at a fancy restaurant or for tickets to an entertaining event.

Consider this time as a week of weekends. Have fun with your family - play board games together, make popcorn and rent classic movies, go to the park for a pick-up basketball game, take in a concert under the stars, get bleacher tickets for a baseball game, go for family bike rides or long walks in the neighborhood, splash each other in the community pool. Have a barbeque and let each family member cook or prepare a different part of the menu. Plan your own Olympics competition with events appropriate for your children's ages.

Write in a let us all know what kinds of things you have enjoyed doing with the family on your staycation. And log on tomorrow for some more tips.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As you begin to think about taking your vacation close to home this year, here are some tips to help you:

As a Sandwiched Boomer, make planning for your staycation a part of the process of reconnection that usually comes about on vacation. Set aside time to have a family meeting and encourage everyone to talk about what activities they want to include. This preparation will give you all a better understanding and appreciation of each other. And you can reduce the tension and arguments that might ensue later about what you were going to do together.

When your staycation begins, take a complete break from all work. Don't check your job-related emails or call in for updates about projects. This is your free time so resist home-related chores as well. Leave the beds unmade or arrange for someone to come in and clean so that you won't be temped to work around the house. Do set aside time for any home activities you enjoy for relaxation - gardening or scrap booking, for example.

As you get some relief from your daily responsibilities of caring for growing children and aging parents, log in tomorrow to get some more tips for easing into your summer staycation.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Now that summer is officially one-half over, have you been putting more thought into how to handle you summer vacation? With the high price of gasoline, are you thinking of canceling your vacation trip?

This year more and more Sandwiched Boomers are reducing their carbon footprint by taking "staycations" with their families. Why drive to a resort when there are community swimming pools around the corner? Why plan a remote getaway when you can relax in the beauty and serenity near you? You don't need to travel to the city for excitement when you can create your own at home.

Gasoline prices are edging toward five dollars a gallon and the hassle and expense of air travel is increasing. Families saddled with the economic and emotional costs of caring for growing children and aging parents are saving money and energy by vacationing at home this year.

But are you wondering how to make it a real vacation and not one long list of chores to do and obligations around the house? This week, we'll be giving you suggestions about planning your own perfect staycation. And if you have already taken yours, share your experiences with the rest of us. Read the tips, put them into action and you'll return from your staycation refreshed, recharged and reconnected to your family.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

In honor of Sandwich Generation month, and as we end our week of tribute to Sandwiched Boomers, we have one last recommendation - the new blog by journalist Jane Gross -

The New York Times, in describing the New Old Age:

"Thanks to the marvels of medical science, our parents are living longer than ever before. Adults over age 80 are the fastest growing segment of the population, and most will spend years dependent on others for the most basic needs. That burden falls to their baby boomer children, 77 million strong, who are flummoxed by the technicalities of eldercare, turned upside down by the changed architecture of their families, struggling to balance work and caregiving, and depleting their own retirement savings in the process.

In The New Old Age, Jane Gross explores this unprecedented intergenerational challenge and shares the stories of readers, the advice of professionals, and the wisdom gleaned from her own experience caring for her late mother in her waning years."

Consider this a valuable new resource for you and your family. Jane speaks from her own experience in caring for her mother - one of her first posts was 'what I wish I'd done differently.' The information on the blog is pertinent and current - in the first two weeks of posting, she has already covered the car key situation and long term insurance. And the blog is definitely resonating for readers - there were 693 comments on the day Jane wrote about 'our parents, ourselves.' Do yourself a favor and check it out - let us know what you find helpful in your own quest.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

There's a fair amount of attention being paid to Sandwich Generation month on the Internet. And that got us thinking about how overwhelming it can be especially in times of family crisis - a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer's, an adult child out of work and moving back home - to wade through tons of material just to be informed.

Stress resulting from information overload is the order of the day. So let us tell you about a service that has been extremely useful to us - it called Google Alerts. It's a innovative time-saving tool that will save you hours of repeating the same topic search over and over again. You can have articles brought to your attention with little effort on your part.

What are they? Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results, whether on the web or in the news, based on your choice of query or topic - for example, Sandwiched Boomers, aging parents, empty nest, boomerang kids.

To get connected to this free service, just go to Google and search for Google Alerts. Fill out the form with your particular requests - the subject you want to monitor, the search terms, how often you want to be alerted and your email address where messages are to be sent. You will be introduced to Internet resources, both personal and academic, and your job will be to focus on the material that is most helpful to your particular circumstances. And let us know once you've tried it.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Research indicates that, for members of the Sandwich Generation dealing with their aging parents, support is very important. Yesterday, readers wrote posts about the people who are there for them - siblings, gerontologists, caregivers, support groups, community resources.

You don’t have to do it alone – secure help, even if it is over your mom or dad's objections, and get support systems in place. Reach out, create a network, hire someone to assist your parents as often as you think is necessary. Betty was frantic about making arrangements for her dad after his stroke. “I was so relieved when I was introduced to the hospital discharge planner. Her expertise and kindness made the move to a rehabilitation center almost bearable.”

Some nonprofit organizations nationwide offer free services or financial grants for respite care for family members who provide most of the care to their chronically ill elders. The federal government, through the National Family Caregiver Support Program, provided funds for respite care to over 190,000 families in 2004. To learn if there is a program in your local community, go online to and look for the Eldercare Locator, or call 1-800-677-1116.

Be forthright with your family. Engage your siblings in the problems and the solutions. Ask for practical help and delegate responsibilities. The value is immeasurable when everyone is willing to set aside personal agendas and work together toward collective goals.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Sandwiched Boomer wrote on yesterday's comments that she's planning to move her aging mother in with the family as a way to take better care of both of them - more loving arms for mom, although some loss of independence, and less stress on herself as she'll be right there when her mom's not doing well.

Another reader discussed the plans she and her husband have made for themselves because they don't have children to help care for them - that is, moving to another country where they can afford to hire caregivers.

Both of these women are faced with making challenging and emotional decisions, despite how different they are. For years we have been working with clients in our practices, struggling with issues that involve their aging parents. But it was still a shock when the problems that accompany aging hit home in a personal way with our own parents - it looks a whole lot different close up.

Our advice is to do your homework sooner rather than later, even if your parents are still healthy and vital. If this is an uncomfortable subject to broach, start slow and ease into it. Your parents deserve to be included in making decisions that directly affect their lives. Know that information is power. And if this situation is not personal for you today, it will be some day.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

You know, as a Sandwiched Boomer, that July is your special month. Sandwich Generation Month, officially registered with the National Special Events Registry, is now an annual observation. It's a chance to bring families together and heighten understanding of the special needs of this cohort.

Carol Abaya coined the term Sandwich Generation in the early 1990's. Finding no available resouces when her parents - in their late 80's - needed care, she decided to dedicate herself to advising midlife adults.

Now, over 15 years later, as the groundswell of Baby Boomers gray and live longer, there are serious issues that need to be addressed. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million. So we have an urgent need, once again, to educate and support caregivers who are maintaining multi-generational families.

This week, as we focus on complex issues - preserving out parents' dignity as they need more care, staying connected to our growing children, paying attention to our own personal needs - please share your thoughts, concerns and ideas.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Did you know that July is Sandwich Generation month? It was established last year as the official month celebrating the dedication and patience of those who are squeezed between raising growing children and actively caring for their aging parents. According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 falls into this definition of a Sandwich Generation member. In addition, there are 7 to 10 million adults caring for their elders from a long distance.

Are you a Sandwiched Boomer, struggling daily and exhausted from your family caregiving duties? Become aware of the support options available to you and reach out for help.

Ask for what you need from your family members and seek out professionals for their expertise and guidance. You don't have to do everything yourself. Let your spouse, children and siblings know exactly how you feel, what you want from them, and how they can do their share.

Recognize that it is healthy to receive as well as to give. Taking help when it is offered doesn't diminish your abilities. Accept and integrate the admiration that others express for you. Relish the gratitude and love that your partner, parents and children demonstrate.

As you decide to take better care of yourself, you will discover the strength to find balance in your life. Develop a firm core of self-fullness - it will sustain you as you continue to nurture your growing and changing family.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

How often do you give yourself a gift? As a Sandwiched Boomer, you owe it to yourself to plan ways to increase your self-fullness. What present would give you some pleasure? Here are some ideas:

Develop personal stress relievers to counteract the burnout that at times overwhelms you. Practice techniques of deep breathing, relaxation or your own form of meditation. Begin an exercise program that you will enjoy - commit to a schedule at the gym or take in the great outdoors, walking with a friend, biking in the neighborhood, hiking in the countryside on weekends.

Give yourself the gift of laughter - look for humor in your daily life, share a funny movie or television show with a friend, participate in activities that bring you joy. After you read the news section of your daily paper, turn to the Comics page to lighten your mood and release endorphins. Recent studies have found that a positive mood creates the atmosphere for better decision-making.

As a member of the Sandwich Generation, its up to you to make time for yourself the same way you manage to care for all of those around you. Tomorrow we'll look at how you can get some help in this process.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Your emotions will likely come into play as you deal with the complexities of being a Sandwiched Boomer. Pay attention to your moods as you work to express and cope with those feelings.

Guilt runs rampant among Sandwich Generation caregivers who often worry that they're not doing enough for their loved ones. Remind yourself that you're dancing as fast as you can, given the realities of your life situation. You don't have to be the perfect mother, daughter, or wife. Set your own reasonable standards rather than falling in the trap of trying to live up to others' expectations.

Work to release additional areas of negativity - both in thought and emotions. When you are afraid of what the future holds in store or angry about what you need to cope with on a daily basis, acknowledge these as normal reactions and accept that they will come and go. Your frustrations and resentments make up part of the tapestry of your life but they need not be in the forefront. Once you understand that they are common responses to a difficult situation, you will find it easier to let them recede.

As you free yourself from negative feelings, begin to replace them with a more positive attitude. In your journal, write about what you are grateful for in your life. End each evening by reviewing three pleasant things that happened that day and savor the warmth these memories generate. Let your creativity emerge as you explore new interests.

As you recognize how your emotions affect you, begin to institute new ways to achieve more self-fullness. Tomorrow we will address some gifts you can give yourself to lighten the load.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Yesterday we promised you Sandwiched Boomers some tips to help you focus on taking care of yourself for a change. Here are three to think about today as you get started giving yourself more than just the time of day:

Whether you are changing jobs, having a baby, facing an empty nest, welcoming a boomerang kidult home, caring for a parent with Alzheimer's or anticipating your spouse's retirement, you don't have to cope with it alone. Find others in like situations or a women's group and gain emotional support as you share ideas.

As caring for your family-in-flux requires more and more of your energy, you in the Sandwich Generation may not be able to spend as much time with your friends. Resolve to stay in contact with them - even though your to-do list keeps growing and your calendar is full. Friendships and the social support they provide can be a potent antidote to the toxins of daily hassles.

Schedule in some quiet, private time and do something that gives you pleasure - take a walk by the water, enjoy the beauty of a sunset, immerse yourself in a good book. Think of this as a personal retreat that provides the opportunity to reconnect and re-center yourself.

Think about how you can implement some of these tips and stay tuned in tomorrow for more ideas about how to become self-full.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Do you worry about being called selfish when you pay attention to your own needs, interests and wishes? There's another way to think about taking care of yourself. We call it "self-fullness." No need to look up self-fullness in the dictionary - you won't find it. And it's also not likely to be in the vocabulary of women who are pulled between their careers, children, parents, spouse or even grandchildren. No matter what age women have attained, many still act the part of the 'good girl,' responding to the needs of others first. It's fitting that such multitasking women are called the Sandwich Generation - since a sandwich often means a quick bite to eat on the run for those who don't have the time for a sit-down meal.

No matter what challenges you face as a Sandwiched Boomer in your career and at home with children growing up and parents growing older, it's not selfish to set aside time for a taste of healthy self-fullness. Vow to put your feet up and think about yourself for once. What brings you happiness? What relieves the stress you face every day? What will bring balance to your life? This week we will give you our top ten tips to guide you as you make plans to nourish yourself.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Today is Independence Day and, as we finish up our series on grandparenting, remember to respect the independence of your adult children who are parents themselves.

You have spent years raising your sons and daughters and now allow them to raise their own children. A lot has changed since you began to parent – new theories of child-rearing, new equipment, new techniques. Don’t assume that, just because you did things in a certain way, it's the best. Your relationship with your children will change as you begin to see their capabilities in a different light. When you hold back, you will notice how naturally and competently they love and care for your grandchildren.

In valuing your children’s parenting style, you will realize that the benefits can be immeasurable. Mark said he was happy that, "By taking our cues about the grandkids from our daughter-in-law, we've earned her confidence and trust. We've been given our stripes and the reward, an on-going relationship with our grandchildren, benefits everyone." Herein lays a second chance to make a difference. And a fringe benefit to consider is seeing these relationships as an investment in the future – your grandkids may eventually be taking care of you.

Whether you're celebrating with family or friends, or enjoying a quiet and relaxing day, happy 4th of July!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Yesterday Cari commented on the process that slowly evolved after her grandduaghter was born - and that's an important point. As you very well may know, if you jump in too quickly without assessing a situation, you're more likely to get into trouble.

As a club sandwich boomer with a first grandchild, try not to offer advice unless asked. You don’t have to say whatever comes to mind. If your suggestions are requested, present them in an open-ended way so that your adult children are free to accept or reject. Remember how you felt when your mother or mother-in-law shared their opinions about how to raise your children?

Talk about the challenges. Don’t be afraid to communicate with your children in a non-confrontational way. You will all be more comfortable and appreciative of your relationship if you don't let issues fester. However, don’t expect that the results of your talk will follow a pre-determined path. Often the fact that there is conversation is more important than the outcome of any one particular discussion.

Be aware of your feelings. You may be ambivalent about babysitting often when it begins to impact the pursuit of your personal interests. Choose a balance between your own needs and the responsibilities of your grand-parenting role. It's necessary to set the kind of limits that work for you.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

As a new grandma, do you have mixed emotions, with feelings of eager anticipation yet some trepidation? Perhaps you're unsure about what to expect – from the baby, your adult children, the co-grandparents or even from yourself. What follows are some suggestions for grandparents-to-be, and reminders for you veterans – honor your children, stand up for your own needs, and make the most of this unparalleled opportunity.

Enjoy the process. Don’t worry about the old stereotype of "grandparent" because it needn't define you. You can add to your self image without subtracting all that you have created and gained over the years. Allow yourself to accept and take pleasure in your insights about yourself and your relationships.

Be helpful, especially in the beginning. Think ahead about the ways you can assist your children and offer to do them even if they are not your first choice – run errands, do a middle of the night feeding, baby-sit early on a weekend morning. You will feel closer to your grandchild after putting in the effort and your children will be more relaxed without having to do these extra chores.

Take note that July is Sandwich Generation month - we honor this cohort that includes some 20 million Americans. Share your stories as we celebrate the love of family and immeasurable personal sacrifice of those who are caught in the middle.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

With the school year over and the camp season about to begin, this week in-between is perfect for three generational family vacations. We figured it's a good time for us to focus on what is known as the Club Sandwich Generation.

As the offspring of Baby Boomers marry and start their own families, the responsibilities of the Sandwich Generation grow. You're already in the middle of your family in flux – squeezed between children growing up and parents growing older. Now another layer is added, the grandchildren. The sandwich is sometimes harder to eat, but always appetizing.

It's been said that you don't experience perfect love until the birth of your first grandchild. Boomers often describe this event as an opportunity to slow down and savor one of life’s most precious gifts. Iris put it best: "For too many years I've been caught up between the dramas of my grown children and aging parents. My new grandson has been a welcome distraction - and I am enraptured by him. Believe me, this whole experience - seeing my son as a dad and getting to know my grandson - is by far the richest part of getting older."

Having just returned from our family vacation, I have fresh, firsthand experience about being an involved grandma while still respecting the new role that your adult children are developing. So log on the rest of the week for some helpful tips about this energizing challenge.

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