I am Chia-Lin Simmons, a mother like many of you, with a child under age 18 and a beloved, elder mother-in-law in need of my family’s care and support. If you haven’t heard the term before, squeezed between the demands of caring for young children and an elder adult, we are members of the Sandwich Generation. My CV shows that I have had a long career in tech and currently am the CEO of LogicMark, a publicly-traded tech company pushing to innovate with new tools for the aging population, but day-to-day, I am a woman and a mom like you— my sisters in the sandwich generation.
Regardless of whether or not you work outside of your home or inside as your family’s daily operation’s manager, I don’t have to explain how meeting the demands coming from both young and older family members is a squeezebox for tension, a high-level balancing act, and a real stretch!
I’m here to share concrete, effective solutions I’ve learned to apply in my home and workplace.
Before you assign a halo over my head, rest assured I too have caved in the face of our position’s inevitable performance anxiety and stress. No one feels the burden more than mothers caught between the competing needs of our children and aging parents. Daily, we feel the real impact on our minds and bodies of caring for our multi-generation families.
If we’ve become experts at self-denial, covering up, and carrying on, science is here to prove the pressure is more than simply emotional or imagined. Studies from the National Institutes of Health and many others show exposure to longterm stress negatively impacts physical health, manifesting itself in heart disease, obesity, sleep and sex disturbances, headaches, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
Sometimes, I’ve been frustrated after turning to other women who offer compassion and sympathy, but come up empty when asked for real-life, real-time solutions. We seek practical steps—delivered quickly because time is precious and limited!
I rely on—and love—lists or agendas. Do you? For me, they organize time and prioritize targeted behavior or goals. Lists and agendas keep me from feeling like I’m drowning, When my kid needs to go to activities on opposite sides of town and I need to help my mother-in-law and there’s dinner to fix, a Zoom meeting to attend, and on and on…organization is a must.
To that end, I’m sharing a list of five ideas I use to relieve stress. Included are how often I apply the action and my favorite prompt phrase to spark easy recall.
1. Frequency: Daily.
Prompt: Remember, it’s cyclical
When you feel pinned if not crushed between layers of responsibility, remind yourself it’s cyclical. Find ways to step outside of yourself and remember life challenges ebb and flow—and sometimes, floods—but the variable tide can be surfed without going underwater if you simply remember it’s not permanent and say to yourself, “You got this.”
2. Frequency: 15-minutes, daily/bi-weekly:
Prompt: Be fully present
Designate one quarter hour to be with each individual child daily and the same or a longer portion of time bi-weekly with your elder adults. Turn off all electrical and mobile devices and meet each person where they are: color with little ones, play in sand or dirt or water, read bedtime stories. Just sit with teens and don’t ask for big confessionals or lecture them. With an older adult, refuse to multitask and resist making it a “spectacular outing” or daylong event. A manageable timeframe and simple interaction is the goal.
3. Frequency: daily
Prompt: Take Care of You
Self-care includes protecting your health, both mental and physical. Learn and practice breathing and lifestyle exercises, eat well, slow your pace and sing songs, knit, read, walk the dog, pet the cat, call a friend or mentor. Self-care need not consume whole days and isn’t exclusively inward directed, although for some mom’s an hour respite each day is the perfect choice. The important element is creating focused time for you. Mom’s are not monoliths, so that could mean solo activities involving favorite hobbies, enrolling in higher education or certification courses, running for elected office in local government, or simply committing to one stress-free, “dealer’s choice” hour daily. Some moms will find it incredibly uplifting to express generosity by volunteering or donating goods or joining a book club. Design your day to provide space for yourself and demonstrate to your family actual evidence that you aren’t only a chauffeur or a one-person cleanup committee. You are a whole person and deserving of care while continuing to provide attention and assistance to them.
4. Frequency: Always
Prompt: Create a Care Circle
This may seem counterintuitive, but whether you’re a CEO, a full-time stay-at-home mom, a part-time worker, actively volunteering on the PTA, in a faith community or at a charitable organization, it’s vital that you create a care circle. Depending on your needs and preferences, this might be an online group whose members share your interests, a professional development support group for upper or middle management or one geared for employees or union members. It could be your circle consists mostly of family members, neighbors, close friends or people who are part of an alumni association to which you belong. Many women say joining a local chapter of a national or international women’s group simultaneously provides micro and macro connections by offering unique, local perspectives and access to greater resources. You might even start a mom’s support group of your own that is coordinated around monthly group chats on a social media platform with options for connecting individually. Having to stay late at work or stuck at a meeting? Your care team might be a handful of people that will pick up and help out — day or night — if you call them. They might help check in on mom or just be there to listen, but they are above all, reliable. Now that you have some ideas, start building your circle!
5. Frequency: Now
Prompt: Find technology that helps, then allow it to help you
We’re well connected to our children through technology such as cell phones and apps with location tracing and other features. Now it’s time for those of us in the sandwich generation to seek improved assistive devices, apps and tech tools that will aid in caring for our older adults. With apps that integrate with calendars, it’s possible to have monitoring and communication solutions that bring assistance to older adults while respecting an older adult’s privacy and independence. It’s possible to find apps that may be used to keep track of teens or older adults as well as help monitor safety, so you can feel peace of mind. And there are already options such as FaceTime for daily/weekly chats, apps and devices that allow you to be contacted in case of an emergency, and tech platforms that help in planning visits in advance so you both have something to look forward to. All of these simple tools reduce the guilt you might feel for not being with them 24/7.
Additionally, consider finding an online support group where you can ask questions, share resources, and know you aren’t alone. There is an entire generation taking care of their aging parents while also caring for young children. It’s challenging and stressful, but can be rewarding if you set yourself up for success. With affordability, access, and state-of-the-art products and technology protecting our family members who are aging-in-place or in our homes, we can reduce the “squeeze” we experience—allowing all of us to be our best selves.
Chia-Lin Simmons is no stranger to the tech world. An Asian-American, she spent 25 years building her career in leadership roles at Google, Amazon, AOL and more. After experiencing first-hand the challenges of working full time, raising her daughter while caring for aging parents (which became increasingly more difficult during the pandemic), Simmons joined LogicMark, a company ready to transform the care technology to keep our aging loved ones safe and connected