Have you ever undertaken the feat of trying to push a stroller and a wheelchair at the same time? If so, then you are firmly a member of the “sandwich generation”— that is, an adult who is taking care of growing children and aging parents simultaneously.
Of course, your situation might not be so dramatic, but it is probably chaotic as you juggle doctor’s appointments with work commitments, parent/teacher meetings and all the other facets of today’s busy schedules.
Be assured you are not alone: A Pew Research study estimated that almost half of adults in their 40s and 50s have a living parent age 65 or older and are also raising a young child or financially supporting a child age 18 or older. Of those, 30 percent say their parent needs help handling their affairs or caring for themselves. And overall, more than 34 million Americans had provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months, according to the study Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
While caregiving is truly a “labor of love,” it also can be financially, emotionally and physically taxing. Here are some tips for family caregivers on surviving the sandwich generation juggle.
1. Coordinate duties.
When one family member lives close by, it can seem as though they shoulder all the tasks that must be done for a parent, from grocery shopping to chauffeuring them to appointments. But, out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind. Make a list of all your weekly obligations (be complete—waiting on hold to make appointments counts!) to give other family members a clear picture of the extent of the needs.
Then determine what duties someone else might take on even from afar, whether it’s ordering groceries for delivery, setting up a laundry service, handling prescription refills, filling out forms or paperwork, or any of the numerous details that seem to multiply.
Remind reluctant siblings that you, too, are juggling a full plate by including a brief update on your kids’ activities as well!
2. Simplify communication.
Are you constantly answering emails and phone calls about your loved one’s status? Let your far-away family know that you will update them daily or weekly—whatever makes sense—and then organize a group chat, email or message board so that everyone is informed of all health details.
3. Take pride that you are being a good role model.
Most kids only see their parents doing things for them, so it can be good for them to see the roles reversed every now and then. Include your kids in your caregiving duties whenever you can appropriately, whether it’s riding along to a doctor’s appointment or showing grandma their latest art work while you fix her dinner. (Of course, always be sensitive to your child’s age and your parents’ relative health.)
4. Consider getting paid to help.
If your parent is eligible for Medicaid and lives at home, you may be able to become a paid “personal assistant,” through the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP). If you are routinely missing work to help your parent, this might help supplement some of the missing income. (Find out more here.)
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.
We’ve all heard the “airplane speech” about donning your own oxygen mask before helping others. That’s surprisingly apt for caregivers too—you have to take care of yourself to be helpful to your parents and kids. So make sure you take time to do whatever represents your “oxygen mask”—whether it’s a yoga class, coffee with a friend or a good long soak in a quiet tub.