There are 66 million Americans who care for their children, spouses, and parents; emotionally, physically and sometimes financially. Research shows that nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s make up the Sandwich Generation: a term that describes people who are squeezed between the demands of caring for aging loved ones and their dependent children.When you have more than one generation to care for, it’s an even bigger job and can be overwhelming.
According to AARP, the typical Sandwich Generation member is a 48 year old woman. She maintains a paying job and spends an average of 20 hours per week providing care to a parent. Those caring for a child under 18 spend 29 hours per week doing so. With so much of your time spent meeting the needs of your children, spouse, job and parents how do you manage it all and still find the time to meet your own needs?
Step one: Organize and coordinate. It’s hard to say to always plan ahead, because caring for more than one generation can bring the unexpected at unexpected times. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Summer vacation is almost over and the kids will be going back to school. Remember not to schedule any more of mom’s appointments in the late afternoon when you’re supposed to be picking the kids up from school. You don’t want to be in that situation again. Arranging for a friend to visit with mom or dad while you attend extra-curricular activities with your kids will allow you to focus on your kids, and not stress about their wellbeing. If you do the shopping for your mother, do yours at the same time. Why make two trips to the store if you don’t have to? Have your spouse or a friend watch your kids so it doesn’t take all night. Plan your week as best you can to avoid running in circles and feeling pressed for time.
Step two: Find help, anyway you can get it. Whether you are seeking help from siblings, other family members, church organizations, volunteers or a trustworthy company that can provide a much-needed break, someone out there can help. You’re going to need some support, and there is no reason why you should do this alone. The truth is each of us needs to face our own vulnerability and limitations. We need to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage, strength, and perseverance.
Step three: Keep everyone involved. Explain to your children delicately and in a way they can understand, that grandma or grandpa’s needs are changing and we need to help them now in ways that we didn’t before. If your mom’s house needs attention and the kids have to tag along with you, why not have them entertain mom and dad by doing activities that they can both enjoy? If the kids are on the younger side, they can color with grandma while you clean the house and prepare dinner. If your kids are old enough, they can entertain the grandparents by reading to them. Puzzles are engaging and fun for all ages! Your mom and dad can help with the kids too. They can share stories of their childhood, or even your childhood. Teaching the kids something new will make them feel important. Just because your parents need help doesn’t mean they can’t help! These types of activities will not only keep everyone busy enough to allow you to get a few things done, but they will bond the generations on a deeper level.
Step four: Be realistic. You can’t be a superhero every day! Remember that some days are going to be harder than others. Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t get done, but rather praise yourself for all that you did accomplish. Some days your kids may not be up for helping with your parents, or vice versa. You’ll want to be understanding and respect that. After all, not everyone can do what you do on a daily basis! In most cases it takes a mutual understanding of expectations from everyone to make this balancing act work.
Step five: Take time for yourself. Through all the chaos, it can be difficult to remember yourself. Read a book, take a bath, have a nap! Play outside in the sun. 10 minutes of sun shine is enough to boost natural levels of Vitamin D, which has been proven to aid prevention of health risks such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, allergies and osteoporosis. Hop, skip, jump and play. Laugh and day dream. Even if it isn’t a long break, a break is a break. Relieve stress in whatever method works best for you. If you do not take care of yourself, you aren’t much help to others around you.
Juggling the responsibilities of family life, your career and caregiving is challenging. All too often you can feel stuck in between the generations. Remember that you will always have support if you reach out!