November is designated as National Family Caregivers month. The challenge of being a“caregiver” has become a widespread concern in both family therapy and medical family therapy, as the baby boomers reach an age where their health needs are higher and an increasing number of families are set to take on the task of supporting family through the senior years. What is less typically discussed, however, is the phenomenon known as the “sandwich generation.” The sandwich generation refers to a growing number of people who are in the position of raising their children while at the same time caring for aging parents.
People in the sandwich generation find themselves simultaneously supporting their children and parents emotionally, physically, and financially. The demands on time and priorities are of utmost concern for anyone in this situation. Who do you take care of first and how do you make time for everyone? Guilt is one of the biggest stressors for any caregiver who is stretched thin. Financial strain is also significant due to the skyrocketing costs of elder care, childcare and higher education. A caregiver often finds their financial and emotional resources diminished and are themselves in need of significant support.
Here are some ideas about how to cope and thrive if you find yourself in the Sandwich Generation :.
1. Create a community of supports – Don’t hesitate to call on other family, a friend, and others in similar situations. Take turns providing respite care for each other and have social events with others who can bring food, entertainment for the kids/parents, and provide a change in scenery. Utilize your local senior center which often has free or low-cost events and social activity for your loved ones.
2. Get your kids involved – Kids can be valuable supports for your elderly loved ones. They can entertain, help serve, and – if you have older kids – even drive. You are not only getting assistance but providing your children a valuable life lesson in caring and responsibility.
3. Get your parents involved – Even parents who are somewhat disabled can help with tasks around the house! Ask for help with recipes, grocery lists, and what to cook for dinner. Utilize their strengths. Perhaps they can fold laundry or read your child a book while you are busy. Not only is it beneficial for you, your parent will feel useful and valued.
4. Research Tools and Ideas – There are apps to help with planning and time management; Assistive devices around the house can eliminate your duties; Put things in places that your parents and children can reach so you aren’t always the “go and get” person; Be creative – something as simple as a water dispenser in your refrigerator door that your kids and parents can access might save time and energy!
5. Focus on self care – And, of course, take care of yourself too. The pressure is tremendous to take care of so many people that oftentimes you neglect your own needs. Self-care will make you a better, happier caregiver.
No matter how many supports you have in place, the many hats you wear can feel overwhelming. Remember that you can not do it all and there are family therapists and other professionals who you can turn to for support.