How to Care for Aging Parents while Raising a Family: 8 Tips for the Sandwich Generation
Modern medicine has meant that many adults are living longer – a fact that brings comfort to all of us. However, this increased life expectancy has also created another phenomenon called, “The Sandwich Generation,” – a group of adults responsible for the caregiving demands of both their children and aging parents. Becoming a “sandwiched” caregiver can feel intimidating as the physical, emotional and sometimes, financial demands are overwhelming. After spending your childhood under your parents’ care, this role reversal can feel painful and confusing for both of you.
So what can the “Sandwich Generation” do to provide the best care for their loved ones while maintaining their own well-being?
If you are a caregiver for multiple generations including young children, adult children, or aging parents, here are some tips that can help:
1. Communicate Regularly
When a parent’s health begins to decline, their care often falls into the hands of one of their children, usually, their oldest child or the one who lives closest. If that person is you, you’ll definitely feel the immense burden of having this role placed on your shoulders. To prevent all of the work from falling on you, set a regular time to communicate with other siblings, family members, or friends that can help with your parent’s care. This can keep everyone involved while holding them accountable.
2. Set your boundaries
You can’t give your family your best when you’re feeling burnt out. It’s important to set boundaries so that you only take on tasks that won’t compromise your ability to care for your kids, adult children, or yourself. Start by writing down every task you can think of related to work obligations and caring for your children and parents. Go over your list with family members to show them how much is on your plate and what you can or can’t take on. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
3. Break down roles
Discuss who would be the best fit for each task related to your parent’s care. Does your cousin with a law degree have time to go over hospital paperwork? Is your brother’s daily route near the pharmacy to pick up medication? Can multiple family members share the responsibility of giving your parent rides throughout the week? And what about your sister who lives 800 miles away? Online banking means finances can be monitored from anywhere, so that might be a good fit for her. You may also consider having everyone pitch in to hire outside help for tasks such as housecleaning or grocery delivery.
4. Find support programs
There are many community centers, hospitals, and places of worship that provide support groups for caregivers to connect and share their experiences. You may be thinking, “I’m stretched beyond my max – I barely have time to read this blog, much less to attend support groups!” Remember, supporting your emotional health will reduce stress and improve your family relationships. In addition, many support groups have an adult care component, giving both you and your parent a break as you focus on self-care.
5. Schedule friend-dates
To avoid burnout, it’s important to regularly unwind, socialize, and spend time focused on your own identity away from your role as caregiver. Make sure that when you set your boundaries, you schedule specific “black-out dates” where other siblings or loved ones will need to tend to the needs of your parent. If your children are young, schedule babysitting trade-offs with other parents to enjoy some care-free fun with your friends or significant other.
6. Make your health a priority
Caregivers will take aging parents to every medical specialist under the sun but often fail to address their own health needs. Make it a point to do everything for yourself that you would do for your parent: get regular checks ups, annual physicals, lab work, dental exams, and fill your own prescriptions. Prioritize exercise, whether it be a casual walk or an intense work-out. Try to sleep at least 8 hours a night and eat a well-balanced diet high in protein and vegetables to boost your mood and energy.
7. Recognize your parent's perspective
A common issue that caregivers experience is bumping heads with their parents. Remember that they are also experiencing stress, as it is difficult to hand off responsibility for their personal health and finances to others. Talk to them openly about their wishes and concerns and let them know that you want to help them from a place of mutual respect. Whenever possible, get them involved in problem solving or offer them options to show that you value their sense of independence.
“Dad, what do you think would help you remember to take your medication?”
“Mom, what can we do to make errands a little more manageable? Would you be open to having your groceries delivered or your prescriptions automated?”
“Mom and dad, who would you like to help oversee your finances? Is there a family member you would trust or would you like me to look into a professional service?”
8. See a specialist
Whether you are caring for your children, your parents, or both, taking on new caregiving responsibilities is a challenging adjustment. A specialist can support you through these transitions and help you set boundaries, find additional resources, and maintain a close bond with each of your family members.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you are a woman struggling with the demands of caring for both your young or adult children and parents, Dr. Davis can provide support, understanding, and practical tips to overcome obstacles.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men through life’s transitions. If you are a man responsible for caring for both children and aging parents, Dr. Sample can provide you with tools and support to make juggling these responsibilities more manageable.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you are concerned that the demands of caring for your parents may be taking away from focusing on your child’s development, Dr. Shinn can evaluate for mental and emotional health concerns and provide tools to overcome challenges.
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Parker, K., Patton, E. (2013). The Sandwich Generation Rising Financial Burdens for Middle Aged Americans. PEW Research Center. Retrieved online: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/
How to Cite This Blog Article:
Shinn, M.M. (2018). How to Care for Aging Parents while Raising a Family: 8 Tips for the Sandwich
Generation. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/how-to-care-for-aging-parents-while-raising-a-family-8-tips-for-the-sandwich-generation