Struggling with sandwich generation challenges of simultaneously caring for aging parents and raising your children? In this personal article, I give some strategies that helped me navigate life as a sandwich generation caregiver.
Raising kids with a full time job out of the home is a challenge for any parent. When you add the stress of caring for aging parents, it can all be completely overwhelming, guilt-inducing and exhausting.
If you’re in that situation right now, you’re likely feeling alone and torn between conflicting priorities. Despite the immense challenges, it is possible to get some peace and organization in your life, even with the challenge of being a member of the so-called sandwich generation.
Sandwich Generation Challenges and Issues
Caregiving is a job. If you’re taking care of your kids, and an aging parent, then you have two extra jobs, on top of your 9 to 5.
What is the sandwich generation? The sandwich generation refers to middle-aged adults who support their children and aging parents.
You aren’t alone as a sandwich generation caregiver
First of all, know you’re not alone. A shocking 47 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent aged 65 or older and are also raising a child or supporting a grown child. That’s a lot of people who are facing the challenging emotional and financial stress of caring for multiple generations. Exactly what we mean when we’re talking about sandwich generation issues.
Acknowledge the challenge of balancing everyone’s needs
One of the hardest things about being a member of the sandwich generation is carefully weighing the often conflicting needs of your loved ones.
Not that long ago, I found myself caring for my Mom after hip surgery over in her home at Christmas. My kids and husband weren’t able to travel to my Mom’s home, so I had to make the difficult decision to have me stay with my Mom over the holidays, and not spend Christmas with my teenage kids. It was a tough decision, but it came down to helping my Mom, who needed more immediate support.
Take a moment to breathe, and assess your priorities
It’s hard not to just react when there are multiple problems coming at you at once. It’s easy to automatically go into a fight or flight response when multiple stressors come at you, like your upcoming work deadline, your kids needing extra help with a project, or your aging parent’s medical needs. When everything comes at me at once, I’m torn between wanting to cry, collapse in a little ball, run away, or yell at someone. Unless there’s a serious emergency in front of me, it always helps to stop a moment, take a few slow, deep breaths, and then assess the issues, instead of just reacting emotionally.
Delegate. And then delegate some more.
Of all the tips and techniques in this article, learning to delegate has given me the most relief. My husband calls me a responsibility hoarder for good reason. When a problem comes along, my first instinct is to take immediate responsibility to fix the problem. That creates issues when there’s simply too much for one person to handle. When I learned to hand off some responsibilities for my mom to other caregivers and family members, who were all perfectly capable, my stress reduced a lot.
Ask “What would this look like if it was easy?”
I constantly catch myself simply going into automatic mode in my life, and struggling with the multiple demands of managing a home, kids, aging parents, a career, a social life, health and wellness, and so on. What’s helped me a lot is to slow down, take a deep breath, and ask myself “What would this look like if it was easy?” This question has made my life so much better, almost every time I ask it.
I love to make home cooked meals, and I often catch myself preparing long, involved meals. While I love cooking, it helps a lot to ask myself, “what would this look like if it was easy?”. Sometimes that means ordering takeout, sometimes it means simplifying my recipe, I occasionally order HelloFresh (see our HelloFresh review and Chefs Plate review), and sometimes it means eating cereal for supper.
Take some time each day just for you
As a parent or a caregiver, it’s easy to spend every minute of the day helping other people. Unfortunately, putting yourself last all the time can lead to complete caregiver burnout. Even if it’s only 15 minutes for a bath, reading, meditation, or exercise, squeeze out some time to do something you enjoy that nourishes your body or spirit.
Seek out professional help
Taking care of others all the time is an exhausting task, both physically and emotionally, and it can be absolutely overwhelming.
We all need support, and managing a career, parenting, and caring for aging parents can create challenges that exhaust our normal coping mechanisms.
Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help, whether that’s talking to a mental health professional (like a licensed therapist), or starting with your family doctor.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Raising children, caring for elderly parents, and managing your career and personal life means dealing with a lot of little details. That can include planning meals, scheduling appointments, buying groceries, medical supplies or disposable underpads for adults, interviewing caregivers, attending parent teacher interviews, house cleaning, and likely a thousand other tasks.
With so much on your plate, getting upset over small or minor issues only leads to frustration and disappointment. Instead, try to take a breath and let the little things go.
Do you have any other tips for navigating the stress of being part of the sandwich generation? Let me know in the comments below.