The ADHD Sandwich Generation: Unique Challenges of Multigenerational ADHD

mutligenerational familyDo you feel overwhelmed by parenting responsibilities and the needs of elderly parents? Then you are smack in the middle of the sandwich generation. Given there are hereditary factors to ADHD,  if you have ADHD, chances are your parents and your kids likely have it in varying degrees, diagnosed or not. This presents a unique set of issues for the “sandwich generation” – when you are raising children as well as caring for aging parents. 

There are several challenges of multigenerational ADHD. For example, issues around executive functioning (EF) and working memory manifest differently in kids, the elderly, and in midlife. Children may struggle with completing homework assignments while seniors may forget to keep up with medication regimen. And you, caught in the middle, need to juggle work and caretaking duties as well as taking care of your own health and wellbeing. That’s a heavy load to carry even if you have the support of a spouse, friends and colleagues. So how can you make things a little easier for yourself? How can you equip yourself to take care of yourself as well as those of others when ADHD can make things more complicated?

Manage Time Effectively

time planning notebooksOne of the hallmarks of the ADHD sandwich generation is that it’s a nonstop juggling act where everything feels urgent and necessary. When things are coming at you from all sides, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Your to-do list of competing priorities seems to get longer and longer. 

Start by zooming out: when you pull back and take the bird’s eye view, what stands out as your priorities. Write these down. Then assign dates when you would like to accomplish certain tasks and dates when things are absolutely due. Then prioritize them and create an order based on deadlines. This will relieve some of the pressure that you feel. Next, find strategies for tasks by improving productivity with ADHD with stronger time management. Use backwards design by starting an end point (arrival time, due date, etc.) and subtracting how long each part of the task will take. Be honest with yourself when you are estimating this. Then, using time blocking, set aside a chunk of time to do ONE thing at a time, shutting off distractions like alerts from your phone. When you complete something, check it off and take a moment to enjoy that. 

There’s no one size fits all solution. Setting up morning and evening routines for yourself and/or your kids could relieve a lot of stress and save loads of time. Using online calendars, organization apps or whiteboards can help your ADHD brain get organized and stay on track. Once you schedule tasks by writing them down, you don’t have to keep thinking about them or using up precious energy worrying about forgetting something. Practicing how to plan and prioritize effectively  leads to game changers in daily life. These strategies might take more extra work up front, but will save you time and energy in the long run.

Delegate and Ask for Help When You Need It

mom giving sun cleaning suppliesFolks with ADHD often find it difficult to delegate tasks or ask for help. Typically, this comes from  fear and shame about looking weak and incapable. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We all rely on getting some help and support in our daily lives, with or without ADHD. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses and people get things done through collaboration and guidance.

So when you feel overwhelmed, lost, or just in need of some relief, it’s important that you advocate for yourself, delegate and ask for help with confidence. Certainly there are some things only you can do. But what about the rest? Make a list of tasks you could delegate to others. Start at home: what are some things your spouse or kids can help out with? Are you doing things for them which they could easily do on their own? Next consider what you can ask a friend or neighbor to do here or there. If it feels like an imposition, offer to swap or take turns. Car pools and grocery runs are two easy chores which you and a friend can switch off on. If you work outside the home, think of who and what can help you overcome ADHD challenges at work. Is there a coworker, manager, or mentor you can turn to for support? Remember, there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. Teamwork makes the world go around.

Take Care of Yourself

woman exercising on floorTaking time for yourself is not a luxury to be sacrificed. It is a necessity. If you are not in good physical, mental or emotional shape, you’ll have a much harder time keeping up with life’s many demands. Plus, you won’t be able to take care of your family the way you’d like. Self care has to be a priority so you don’t experience burn out. Otherwise, you’ll always push that down to the bottom of the to-do list and never get to it.

Self-care is essential for building confidence, resilience and stress tolerance. Consider what you can do in times of stress which will help calm and center you. Getting out in nature and doing some form of exercise are two extremely effective tools for stress management. Meditation, journaling, time alone or time with friends are additional ways to take yourself out of the daily routines. Decompression isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. What does this look like for you? Suggest and brainstorm some of these practices to your loved ones as well. The more grounded they feel, the better for everyone in the family, including you! If you’re not able to carve out a little time for yourself during the week, schedule wellness activities on weekends. Even sneaking in 30 minutes of quiet with tea and a good book will provide you with fuel to face the day’s challenges.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

laughing woman outsideSometimes life can feel like a blooper reel. For most of us, days consist of interruptions, mistakes and misunderstandings. While these can feel daunting, much of the time these are manageable challenges which require a little elbow grease and creative problem solving. It’s helpful to keep things in perspective by zooming out and reflecting on what is most important to do right now and what can wait.  

On days when you’re putting out one fire after the next, a sense of humor can certainly help get you through it all. Of course an illness or a broken car is a serious matter. But often big challenges can be temporary. Remind yourself that you’ll get through this. You have many of the resources you need and, if you don’t, you can ask someone for assistance. Try to think back to another difficult circumstance or a difficult day you had. What or who helped you get through it? How did you help yourself? Can you do more of that? Some days are just so tough you have to laugh about it and power through. As the saying goes, try not to sweat the small stuff. Instead, shift your focus to brighter days ahead.