Some tips for caregivers in the sandwich generation
With more women waiting until later in life to have children and the general population living longer, many of us have become part of the sandwich generation, that is, those who are caring for their children and their parents at the same time.
The Pew Research Center reports that slightly more than one in eight Americans aged 40 to 60 are raising a child and caring for a parent. Many of these caregivers also work outside the home, with 25% to 34% holding a full- or part-time job, according to research sponsored by the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
The result can be financial, emotional, and physical stress, especially for women, who make up the majority of the caregiving community. Already the primary caregiver for my two teenage sons, I unwittingly became part of the sandwich generation when my father was hospitalized for an extended period a few weeks after my mother began chemotherapy.
Although the day-to-day physical care for my parents is not my primary responsibility (both live about 300 miles away), the emotional and psychological toll of having two ill parents while raising two teenagers remains significant. Based on the statistical data, I am not alone in this experience, but how should those of us who find ourselves “sandwiched” continue to butter both pieces of bread, so to speak?
For me, the key has been to start with myself. As a single mom, I know that you can’t be an effective caregiver without first taking care of yourself—even more important when you are on both ends of the caregiving spectrum. The following self-care tips can help you maintain your own well-being while taking care of others.
Acknowledge the challenge. As your parents age, it is natural to feel a sense of loss and sadness. Watching them transition from vibrant and healthy beings to weak and frail ones is difficult. Part of thriving in the midst of difficulty is to face it head-on. Don’t gloss over it or dwell in negativity, but don’t sugarcoat it, either—you do yourself a disservice whenever you do.
Ask for help. Avoid the urge to be Superwoman. Now is not the time for heroics. When someone asks you what you need, tell her. Let friends take things off your to-do list so you have more time to focus on the critical needs of your parents and your children.
Have your kids take on more household tasks. If your kids are like mine, they can tell when you’re stressed out. Now may be a good time to give them more age-appropriate responsibilities around the house. Send the teenager who can drive to the store with a list; let little ones vacuum; middle schoolers can make their own lunches or help with laundry. There is plenty to go around. Doing so not only helps you but also helps them understand what it means to live in community with others and the importance of pitching in to help when someone is in need.
Move your body. It is natural to feel mentally and physically depleted when we are giving so much of ourselves, but exercise is one way to increase endorphins and instantly boost your mood. It can also increase your energy for the all-important task of caregiving.
Treat yourself. Find one thing that brings you joy and do it. An at-home facial, a manicure, a walk in the park on a nice day, five minutes of meditation, a hot soak in the tub—it doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate, but it is important to keep yourself on the priority list.
Be grateful. It may seem counterintuitive, but countless studies demonstrate that practicing gratitude not only makes you happier but also changes how your brain is wired. No matter how difficult or challenging your day is, make it a habit to find something to be grateful for. Make a list in your phone, keep a journal, or just take a few minutes while you’re in the shower to think of something to be thankful for. It will make all the difference.
Find a community of support. Being pulled in multiple directions is not an easy space to be in, but it’s important to remember you are not alone. Many people have been where you are and are ready to support you with practical advice, nurturing wisdom, a strong shoulder, or a sympathetic ear.
Are you stuck in the middle of the caregiving spectrum? How do you cope with it?
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.