Many of my friends are dealing with aging parents and teenagers. They are part of what is known as the sandwich generation. Not only are they running teens to soccer, dance, and a plethora of activities, but also running to nephrologists, cardiologists and pain management specialists. In other words, they are managing and caring for two generations of family who need their attention. The common comment is, “When do I have time for myself? I feel overwhelmed and exhausted.”
Now, if your own health becomes an issue, who takes care of you in addition to all the people who depend on you? This is a real concern. You simply can’t afford down time when others need you. If you’ve got a supportive partner, good friends or a church family, consider yourself blessed. The stress of caretaking can bring even the best adjusted person to their knees. I remember managing both in-laws and parents, while working a full-time job and being available for my teens and college-age adults. It was a lot to handle. I wasn’t alone. According to the Pew Research Center, almost a quarter of Americans are part of this sandwich generation.
To do the job of caretaking both generations, you need to be extremely organized, a health advocate, spend time talking to your own children and doctors and health care workers. You constantly make decisions and pray you make the right ones. You notice and manage the cost of schooling, tuition, books, and elderly services. And women traditionally bear the burden of caregiving despite all the rhetoric about gender equality.
This caregiving burden is expected to grow given the aging of the population and the delay of having children. So, what can we do to stay grounded and sane?
- Make time for self-care. None of us can endlessly give without rest and relaxation. God told us to rest one day a week. The Creator of our body, mind and spirit knows we need to regularly reboot and rest. Make yourself rest! Read, nap when you can, get exercise and do something that brings you joy.
- Keep your sense of humor. Sometimes a good laugh is the remedy to break tension and stress.
- Have a support team and don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you need a break, ask a friend to run errands or listen to your woes. A listening ear helps calm the nervous system. Feeling connected to social support brings down stress.
- Set boundaries. No, you can’t bring snacks for the study group next week. Maybe tell your boss you can’t work late on days you have to run parents to doctor appointments. Wherever you can reduce expectations and busyness, do it.
- Stay organized. I had more folders and written notes regarding doctors and deadlines than I care to admit. But these prompts kept me organized and I didn’t rely on my memory to remind me of where I had to be and when.
- Ask family members to help. Your older teens and young adults can help with grandparents. Sometimes, just sitting with them while they study is enough and a big help. Stopping by to check on grandparents and to brighten their day is another way children can help. Ask your siblings to help with physical tasks. Divide the work. Delegate. My brother handled the physical care of parents, and I did the medical and financial care. Without his and my sister-in-law’s help, I would have been overly stressed.
- If you can afford it, hire services like lawn care and cleaning. These services are time savers and stress relievers.
- Keep perspective. I used to remind myself how well my parents cared for me. Now it is my turn. And I instilled this perspective to my children. We care for people we care about and sometimes that means personal sacrifice for a period of time. When I look back at the sandwich time, I don’t have regrets about how hard I worked to provide care to all.
- Assess finances on a regular basis. Do you need to make plans for future expenses? What finances are you working with and what can you do with the money you have? Seek help from Veterans organizations, special groups and free services like Meals on Wheels. The front end of setting up my father’s VA services was a nightmare of paperwork, but once I got him in the system, the VA provided many services he could not afford. Just know, you must advocate for your parent in a very complicated system, but the pay-off is worth it.
- Finally, find prayer partners, a church family who will continue to pray and encourage you. Read your Bible to renew your mind and know that God is with you and will give you what you need to get through this time. Bring your burdens to the Lord. And focus your mind on the goodness of God and the peace that only He can bring.