When my Chinese mom felt bad about something she had done or said, she would serve up a giant bowl of rice with my favorite topping. That was her way of saying “sorry.” These actions are not uncommon in the Chinese culture, or among older generations.
Different cultures and different generations have different ways of apologizing. It is similar to the five languages of love—the theory that there are five different ways that people show and accept emotional love, for example someone might show they love another by doing acts of kindness and another might need more physical contact to feel they are loved. There are many different ways of saying ‘sorry.’ It could come in the form of doing something nice, like cleaning or fixing a delicious meal or sharing a favorite treat. It could be a surprise outing or it could be nothing at all.
Much of the older generation don’t apologize at all. They don’t want to admit to their children that they don’t always do right. Parents are often looked at by their children as if they can do no wrong and parents embrace that image. It is a hard thing to apologize to anyone, let alone your children. When the older generation of parents were children they were taught about hierarchy in family. They were taught to respect their elders, which means never to call them out when they might be doing something wrong. They were taught that the elders always knew best and therefore never expected an apology from them. That engrained belief makes it highly uncomfortable for the older generations to say “I am sorry” to their children.
Despite a lack of verbally communicating their regrettable feelings, it does not mean they aren’t truly sorry. Many times these things come out in actions rather than words. Sometimes you just have to look at the relationship and the actions following. While no parents should get a free pass from their children if they have done wrong, it is all part of unconditional love and acceptance. As the child, you must learn to accept that different cultures and different generations respond differently. And, you need to look at your parents as a whole rather than just the parts of however they have wronged you. No one is perfect even if as children we sometimes expect our parents to be the keepers of knowledge and to do no wrong.
How does your parent apologize, if any?
It’s a Tuesday morning and you’re sitting at your desk. Your coffee is still hot, almost all of your emails from the previous day have been opened and you’re prepping for your afternoon meeting. Then, in a matter of minutes, a call from the school nurse comes through. Your child is sick and needs to be picked up immediately. As you coordinate those plans, the doctor’s office calls to remind you of your mother’s 2:30 pacemaker appointment for later that day, one that may have slipped your mind. If this scenario, in any variation of it, sounds familiar, you are in what researchers call the “Sandwich Generation.”
The Sandwich Generation can be defined as individuals aged 40 to 59 to who are responsible for raising children while caring for the needs of their parents. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that roughly one out of every eight Americans falls within this category. I’m all too familiar with helping individuals, particularly women, handle the day to day stresses of being a dual caregiver. As women stuck in the Sandwich Generation, the dueling lifestyles can create a number of psychological, emotional and financial stresses. Here are a few:
- Though men can be in the Sandwich Generation, families are more likely to adopt the “efficiency mentality.” This is the belief that since women are already taking care of children, taking care of aging parents may not seem as big a burden to add on. This mentality grossly underestimates the resources and time necessary to handle both responsibilities.
- One major factor that has played a role in the steady growth of the Sandwich Generation is that many couples are delaying the point at which they choose to start a family. This is in large part due to the ever-changing economic climate and student loan debt. Women are working to become more established in their careers and financially secure before starting a family.
- Single mothers are increasingly becoming the dominant demographic of the Sandwich Generation in comparison to married mothers.
- Advances in the medical field have increased life expectancy, allowing aging parents the ability to live longer and healthier lives. This means more resources are necessary to sustain living. Societal expectations of women caregivers in conjunction with the economy driving women to work have created emotionally and psychologically draining ‘round-the-clock lifestyles for women within the Sandwich Generation.
- It is very common for women in the Sandwich Generation to experience feelings of depression, anxiety and other symptoms of emotional distress because of worries about outlook for elderly parents, themselves and their own children.
- The needs of the caregiver within the Sandwich Generation often go unaddressed, creating personal issues in areas such as health and finance.
- Despite the negatives, it is possible for the Sandwich Generation to meet the demands of child, parent and self. This comes through support networks, communication, prioritization and respite care.
- A positive that comes from Sandwich Generation is the familial bond created – strengthening the bond between elderly parent and adult children. Grandchildren get to know their roots by being with their grandparents more.
- Planning, organization and communication are three main skills that help those women within the Sandwich Generation to balance the constant needs of both children and parents.
Are you in the Sandwich Generation? Share your issues, knowledge, struggles and suggestions below. Mabel Yiu is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.