Feeling the ‘Sandwich’ Squeeze?
If you're caring for both your kids and elderly parents, you're not alone.
Are you providing care and support for aging parents, as well as taking care of your own children? If so, you’re not alone. A recent article published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that nearly one out of every ten women between age 45 and 56 is providing a significant amount of care or support to both her parents and her children.
The figure may even be as high as one in three women, depending on how one defines “care” and “support.” Welcome to the “sandwich generation.”
Even if you aren’t currently in that situation, the odds are that you eventually will be. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, 67 percent of Americans under age 60 expect to care for an aged relative in the next 10 years, up from 25 percent who were caregivers just a decade ago.
Brenda Wilson, MSW, a professional geriatric care manager, says that caregivers are often unprepared for how physically and emotionally draining this dual caregiving role can be. While they want to do what’s right for both their children and their aging parents, figuring out how to do that isn’t easy. “There is no blueprint for this and each situation is unique,” Wilson says.
Women in this role are often advised to take care of themselves first, so that they’ll have the strength to care for others. This is much more easily said than done, cautions Lundi Palmer of Advocates, Inc., a geriatric care management agency. Palmer recommends that caregivers try to approach the demands of both child and elder care in a systematic way. She suggests listing all the tasks that need to be done for each party, and then trying to identify which ones can be done by someone other than you.
Wilson adds, “Pay attention to the balance of where you’re putting your energy. At times it must be on your children and primary family, and at times the elders will need the attention.” She suggests that if you’re spending most of your time and energy on the elders, at the expense of your children, it may be time to find other ways to address some of the seniors’ needs.
From basic needs such as occasional transportation or meal preparation to more complex demands, including medical, financial or household management, many avenues of support for an aging parent are available to help you devote more time to your children.
As a starting point, enlist help from your siblings and make decisions collaboratively as much as possible. Even if they don’t live close enough to provide hands-on care, engage them in other responsibilities for your parents.
For example, a sibling can conduct online research about nursing homes and narrow the list of choices based on insurance coverage and healthcare needs.
Family members, neighbors and friends may be willing to help with some tasks on your list. You can even coordinate care for your loved one through a new online tool from the National Alliance for Caregiving that helps you define tasks, invite others to sign up for them and track their commitments. Those who sign up for tasks receive automatic e-mail reminders from the system. This service is private, secure and free.
If your children are old enough, enlist their help with caring for elders by assigning them age-appropriate responsibilities. This offers multiple benefits: building relationships between child and grandparent, giving both a sense of self-worth and importance and easing your caregiving burden.
Look for volunteer groups and churches that may be able to offer assistance, from taking your elder to appointments to providing occasional meals or just visiting periodically to ease loneliness and keep an eye on things.
Your local area agency on aging (see sidebar) can provide information on local free and fee-based services such as home-delivered meals, transportation services, adult day centers, elder companions, senior housing options and home health and visiting nurse agencies. Local errand, handyman, personal chef, laundry or house cleaning services can also ease your caregiving workload.
Talk with your employer about elder care or child care benefits, employee assistance programs, flexible work hours or paid or unpaid time off. Have your spouse do the same. A recent national study by the Families and Work Institute found that 79 percent of employers offer paid or unpaid time off for employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs.
If you’re contemplating having Mom or Dad move in with you, consider how your home would accommodate their needs, taking into account features such as in-law quarters, handicap accessibility and safety.
Think realistically about changes that might be required in your family’s routine if an aging parent is part of the household. Engage spouse and children in the decision-making. And talk with your siblings about what support and involvement you’d need from them if your parents live with you.
If you need to explore alternative housing options for an aging parent, the good news is that there are numerous choices, from “continuing care,” modified or general retirement communities to independent living, assisted living, personal care homes and nursing homes.
Even if your parents seem to be doing well on their own, it’s a good idea to talk openly with them about the future, advises Wilson. It’s important to have an idea of their resources and plans. For Money Magazine's tips on having “the talk” with your parents, click here.
If you’re “sandwiched,” the key is to take an organized approach to caregiving and to enlist the help of others. “If some tasks can be delegated, it allows the caregiver to spend more time being a loving, supportive caring family member,” Palmer says. “And that’s a role no one else can fill.”
Melanie G. Snyder is a freelance writer.