Your children have come home from school hungry for dinner, your husband is stuck at work, and your father keeps calling you because he can’t find his car keys again. Did you ever think you’d be trapped in the so-called “sandwich generation” caring for children at the same time that you’re caring for an aging parent or relative?
According to a 2009 study, almost one in five employed Canadians have responsibility for both childcare and eldercare. The number of Canadians in the sandwich generation is expected to grow as people “have younger children, older parents, fewer siblings, and will more likely be employed” than earlier generations.
Anyone feel guilty?
Not only are there emotional consequences arising from caring for an elderly parent, there are physical, organizational and financial issues as well. You might feel guilty about leaving the children at home with a babysitter to take your mother to a doctor’s appointment. Or, perhaps, you might feel guilty thinking about your dad sitting in the retirement home by himself while you’re on holiday in another city. The combinations for creative ways to feel guilty are endless.
It can be hard to distance your needs from the endless needs of your parents which can include taking care of their finances, physical care, being their advocate with other caregivers, their doctor and so on, and your children’s needs.
Here are some suggestions to help you cope:
1. Make sure that your parents’ doctor is aware of the situation
Older people who are finding it hard to cope are often very good at putting on a good show for others. Remember that sometimes their personal pride is at stake.
2. Help your parents set up their banking & accounts to avoid delays for regular bills
Ask them to take you through their financial records and offer suggestions for how they can automate tasks like paying regular bills via direct deposit. You may also consider hiring a bookkeeper or accountant to help. Technology can also be useful for on-line shopping or staying in touch.
3. Consider hiring professional help
Hiring a senior care professional as help for Mom or Dad can be a blessing for everyone involved. A friendly, safe, registered retirement home or hands-on care home may also be required. Currently, my Dad – who lives in France — gets by with a regular cleaner, but knowing that someone is looking in on him two or three times a week is all we need for peace of mind at the moment. My own grandmother was able to live in a good, local care home for the last few years of her life. She had her own one-bedroom space, made new friends, ate in a lovely dining room with nutritional meals and received the healthcare assistance she needed on a daily basis. Bear in mind, however, that the obstacles and solutions will be different for everyone.
4. Consider having your parent move in with you
Although it’s stressful trying to juggle small children and older parents, it can be wonderful for both parties to get involved with each other. If your aging parents are living in your house, your children will have the opportunity to get to know their grandparents. This is a very special relationship which should be nurtured if at all possible. And, of course, it’s emotionally beneficial for the elderly to spend time with children-especially their own relatives. My mother-in-law concurs. Her suggestion regarding aging parents and small children “is to throw them together because they can benefit so much from each other.” Of course, if granny or grandpa live with you and enjoy their peace and quiet, they may feel overwhelmed with youngsters singing nursery rhymes at all hours or teens gossiping in the den with their friends. However, just like parents and their children, all families need to learn to work together.
5. Remember to take care of yourself
It can be very difficult to manage your own needs, your partner’s needs, your children’s needs and your parents’ needs at the same time. It can be an exhausting combination but one that can also be rewarding and fruitful if you ask for the help which is now available more than ever on websites such as Care.com. Remember that you have to take some time out for yourself on a regular basis, even if it’s just a moment here and there — caregivers need to be taken care of too.