The Sandwich Generation are those people who are the middle generation of their living families - often raising children and taking care of their aging parents at the same time.
It can be a rewarding time for a lot of caregivers - letting them 'give back' a little to the parents who raised them, all while getting the opportunity to raise children of their own.
But the rewards can come at a rather hefty price. There are financial considerations, if elderly parents are unable to generate income and may live on a very limited budget. There is also the exhaustion attached to working a full time job, having young children to care for, and the added responsibility of taking older parents to appointments, maintaining their homes or yards, or even providing more in depth care like bathing, cooking and activities of daily living.
Legal matters like wills, living wills and property are often handled or overseen by adult children, adding to their own mountains of personal paperwork waiting for them in the home office.
How can those of us who are in this sandwich generation do it without falling apart? There are ways to ease the pain:
Ask for help from community organizations who have volunteers to assist older people with housework, yard work and driving them to and from appointments or shopping trips. If you belong to a church - most have community outreach departments who can help. Check with your town's Senior and Adult Services to see how they can help you - it's what they do!
Make sure their doctors know that you are their primary caregivers. They may have valuable resources for you.
Divide the labor - ask adult siblings to share the responsibilities. Although there is often one adult child who takes charge of elderly parents - others can help by giving you a weekend off or contributing financially.
Understand that your elderly parents probably understand the stress you may feel. Don't try to be superwoman; exhaustion will be your kryptonite. Explain your limitations to your parents, and don't fret if you can't take them to Wednesday's bridge club because it clashes with the PTA. You can't do it all.
There are also practical issues - If you parents still live by themselves, have a neighbor check in on them weekly or better still, have a few neighbors check in on them often. If they are in Assisted Living or a Nursing Home, go to as many quarterly meetings (often called the Plan of Care) as you can and advise staff to keep up posted on any issues.
If your parents live with you and are not memory impaired, make sure they know to keep all medications away from children, including teenagers. If they are memory-impaired, you may have to think about baby-proofing (so to speak) your house again. Encourage some nights out for them - maintaining their independence is important, it keeps them active and allows you some valuable down time.
And it's not all doom and gloom! Aging parents can often be a great asset to the family - they can help out with younger children, provide wisdom as well as a bit of fun, and family gatherings can be unforgettable intergenerational fun.
For information and support, there are many groups to help.
The AARP at www.aarp.org
Family Caregiver Alliance at www.caregiver.org
The National Family Caregivers Association at www.nfcacares.org
Do you care for an older relative, while taking care of your own children too? How do you cope?
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