Caring for young children is stressful. Caring for elderly parents is stressful.
Combine the two, and you’re part of the sandwich generation. And you could run yourself ragged if you’re not careful.
What do you do if your child is sick and your father is sick? Who gets your attention first?
I’m a “sandwicher,” and you may be too. I’m divorced with primary custody of my 12-year-old son, and I’m the main caregiver for my married parents, who are pushing 80.
How did I get myself in this situation? Doesn’t really matter. The bigger question: How do I (and perhaps you) cope with the differing challenges that the young and old present?
I needed some answers and, fortunately, found some good advice.
“Never be afraid to ask for assistance when you need it, and you may be surprised at who has been waiting to help you,” says aging expert Kathleen Bogolea in an article on Caregiver.com.
She encourages members of the sandwich generation to involve their siblings in their parents’ care.
“Hold a family meeting,” she writes. “Discuss the many different tasks that need to be accomplished each day or week. Set a task for family members to complete each day/ week.”
She poses questions that I’ve asked myself: How do I divide my time between my child and my parents? How do I know when I’m spending too much time on one responsibility? How do I find adequate time for myself?
Bogolea offers a helpful website for the sandwich generation: the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
“Families are the major provider of long-term care to older loved ones who need assistance,” the site says. “While this responsibility can take an emotional, physical and financial toll, knowing about and taking advantage of available resources can help relieve caregiver stress.”
The aging association offers information on housing and transportation options for older adults. And it has a helpful guide on teaching seniors about electronic communication, such as emails and text messages.
An article on CNN provides other resources, such as eldercare.gov, a website run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that connects people with services for their elderly loved ones and themselves.
Many of the articles I read had a common suggestion: If you’re a “sandwicher,” take care of yourself. Don’t let yourself become physically and emotionally exhausted in caring for your kids and your parents.
If you do, you won’t be of use to either – or to yourself.
“Do not neglect the quality of your own life because you are taking care of others,” urges a report on the sandwich generation by Utah State University. “Seek emotional support from friends, family or other organizations.”
The report makes a very important point: Caring for kids and the elderly simultaneously doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Yes, you’ll feel frustrated and overworked at times.
But see yourself as fortunate too. You have an opportunity to forge everlasting ties with your children and your parents that many people do not if you’re in the sandwich generation.
If you’re part of the sandwich generation, be smart. Don’t try to meet every need of your children and your parents. You’ll fail, and you won’t have a life of your own. Take advantage of the many resources available for people overseeing both the young and the old.