Of the many challenges shared by the sandwich generation, perhaps the most challenging is trying to balance the needs of loved ones while not sacrificing your own health and mental state of mind.
The “sandwich generation” refers to people who are caring for and supporting their parents and children at the same time. Raising children or caring for an elder takes considerable energy and mental resources on its own, let alone concurrently. And that’s not to mention attempting to maintain a career or have any time for oneself. It’s a lot to have on your plate.
If you’ve found yourself in the sandwich generation, you are not alone. According to a Pew research study, nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). And about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15%) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
Here’s some advice to help you keep on top of your caregiving responsibilities and better manage this demanding stage of life.
Carefully weigh everyone’s needs
Children and aging parents have very different needs. You may find yourself having to make difficult choices about who you should attend to and when. Children’s lives are filled with meaningful milestones including sports tournaments, awards ceremonies or even having children of their own – grandchildren you will most likely want to spend time with. At the same time, older parents have pressing medical concerns and require timely assistance with basic needs and transportation. You also have your personal wants and job responsibilities.
Try to think objectively about whose needs are most urgent and whether or not you can delegate. Could someone else accompany your parent to an important doctor’s appointment while you take your daughter shopping for a prom dress? Would it be possible for someone else to pick the kids up from school so you can check on your mother who recently suffered a fall? Think about what your loved one would want you to do and which choice you will be most comfortable having made later. You must also come to accept that sometimes you simply have to say “no” without feeling remorse or overwhelming guilt.
Find efficiency where you can
There’s more than enough to do while you simultaneously support your child and care for aging parents. Streamlining those tasks whenever and wherever possible is a necessity. Little things can add up quickly, so look for even tiny tweaks you can make in your day. When communicating with family, reach out to everyone involved at once through a group text or email chain. If you’re in charge of coordinating care, create a centralized spreadsheet online that everyone involved can access and update. Plan your day to consolidate trips as much as possible; consider going to grocery stores and other businesses that are closer to where you need to be than your usual or preferred stops.
Ask others to pitch in
You are only one person, but you are not the only person capable of helping. Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for assistance. Most people are happy to help, but they aren’t sure what they should or can do. Let them know. Perhaps they could help with your older parent with shopping, help you with family meal planning or pitch in with transportation to and from school or doctor appointments. Even if someone isn’t close by, they can still help care for a parent when they come for an occasional visit or can contribute financially for respite care. And don’t undervalue the importance of simply having a sympathetic ear when you’re feeling stretched thin.
Balance caregiving and your career
If you are in a position to do so, speak with your employer about changing your schedule, working more flexible hours or going part-time for a little while. You could also ask to use any sick days and paid time off you have or even take unpaid leave. Through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year without risking their jobs. FMLA policies are dependent on the length of time you’ve worked with your employer, the number of hours you work each week and your health insurance status, but it is something to consider and discuss.
Many employers also offer services in their benefit packages that can help find back-up day care or other resources. Speak with your human resources department to see if your company is involved with those types of programs.
Call in the professionals
Friends and other family members can be a great support network, but there will be times when other obligations make them unavailable or times when they need to be supported, too. It’s okay to reach out for professional help. This may look like respite care so you can take some time to recharge and care for yourself. It could be that you enlist the help of a grocery or meal delivery service or hire a tutor for your children.
Many people in the sandwich generation may find that housekeeping services prove most helpful; when your home environment is clean and organized, it can help put you in a better headspace, which makes it easier to handle your day-to-day responsibilities. If your parent’s care needs are more substantial, consider home health services. And don’t forget your needs – explore support groups to help manage your own physical, mental and emotional health.
Talk to someone
The simple act of stating your feelings out loud can have a big impact on your ability to manage those feelings. Lean on your spouse, siblings or a trusted confidant who has experienced your situation – or consider joining a support group. Having someone to relate to and knowing you’re not alone can be empowering. If you’re comfortable with doing so and financially able to, consider speaking with a professional. A therapist or counselor can help you look objectively at your feelings and work through negative emotions. It’s a safe place where you can let your guard down and learn coping skills that will benefit everyone.
Let yourself recharge
The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of everyone else. Self-care isn’t all spa days, meditation and pampering. Sometimes self-care is as simple as getting a full eight hours of sleep a night or taking time to prepare a healthy meal at home. If you function better when you hit the gym regularly or meet a friend for coffee once a week, don’t let go of that. Determine your non-negotiable needs, and make sure they are met. You matter, too, and you’ll be a better parent and caregiver if you prioritize yourself every once in a while.
Most importantly, show yourself compassion. Acknowledge that sometimes there will not be an even balance. Some weeks you will focus more on your spouse and children, others on your aging parent. Prioritize to the best of your ability, trust yourself to make good decisions and forgive yourself when you can’t do it all. This is also a good time to gently introduce your elderly parent to the benefits of a senior living community – it’s much easier to start this conversation when an immediate decision is not required, giving you both time to explore options together.
We’re always here to help
As a leader in the industry, Atria Senior Living is happy to share our expertise and offer any support we can – even if the support you need is from someone other than us. We can call on our trusted relationships with other senior living organizations and resources to put you in touch with the best solution for you and your family. Feel free to reach out to your local Atria Community Director today.