Interview with Shayna Poupko, Sandwich Generation Coach

Caring for children and parents at the same time can be stressful. What tips do you have for the sandwich generation about reducing day-to-day stress?

Different personality types deal differently with life’s stresses. Those souls who go with the flow will not be so overwhelmed when faced with the additional tasks of taking care of a parent. Making a schedule for them would be either pointless or a study in torture. Structured natures would benefit from listing the needs (dressing, bathing, eating, sleeping, nurturing) of the family members and themselves and appropriate time slots for each of them. Having it all in front of you highlights the crunch time and when to call in the troops. Perhaps the best tip is to acknowledge that life is not the same anymore and adjustments are necessary. Thinking that one can have the same lifestyle and schedule will lead to frustration.

When you became a caregiver, what did you find most surprising?

Seeing how quickly we fell into role reversals. My father for decades represented the person whose strength never wavered and whose advice was sought. In a matter of weeks, my father turned to me for advice and leaned on me and other family members both literally and figuratively.

What method of relaxation did you find most effective?

Getting out of the house was the only time I really was able to relax. For the first few years I maintained my work out of the home and at work I could be focused on something that was not emotionally charged. Witnessing daily the physical limitations of a parent forces one to face the impermanence of life. After my father suffered a number of mini strokes, I stopped working so that I could administer the extra care that my father required. At home the concerns and duties of caretaking were part and parcel of each waking moment and relaxing was much more difficult. Walks around the neighborhood provided exercise and a chance to meet with friends.

What was the best advice you received about caring for an elderly relative?

Following a fall my father was checked out by a neurologist. Concerned that my father might fall again and be seriously injured I inquired whether my father should be allowed to continue traveling alone by bus to his favorite classes in town. The doctor said, “Yes, it might happen again. He might fall and get injured. But if you stop him from doing what he wants to do, you might as well call the funeral parlor now. You need to allow your father to do what he wants to do.”

Who should meet with a sandwich generation coach?

I believe that anyone who is in the position of a sandwich generation caretaker would benefit from meeting with a coach. The thesis of coaching is that no one knows the best answer to an individual’s issue better than the individual themselves, but there may be mental blockages which prevent the individual from accessing them. The coach would facilitate the removal of the blockages. Often there are many mixed emotions brought up by the new situation which need to be sorted out. Old unresolved issues with parents become intensified at this juncture. The new role may provoke anger at oneself and at other family members; frustration for what they see as not coping; or resentment at what they perceive as unfairly shared duties. A coach is trained to listen at a very high level and mirror back to the person what they said to help the person resolve their issues.

How can coaching change the perspective and daily schedule of a person caring for both parents and children?

Coaching is all about perspective. While caring for a parent presents challenges logistically and emotionally it also has embedded in it the rewards of a deeper relationship with parent and children and for children to know their grandparent in a most intimate and enriching way. They will be privy to stories and aspects of their grandparent’s life that other grandchildren are not. As far as scheduling each case is unique. The life coach will foster fertile ground for the caretaker to recognize her priorities and place them in the appropriate place on the schedule. Equipped with this knowledge she will be able to allot the proper amount of time at the appropriate slot in the day’s schedule. And if the clients comes to the conclusion that the day is not long enough for all that needs to be done, together’ coach and client can explore other alternatives. The coaching process is geared to move the client from stuck to forward movement and from indecision to action. It allows the caretaker to keep her eye on the ball and play a better game of life.