Many of us are caring for our parents as they get to an age where their health begins to fail or they are diagnosed with a chronic illness. In addition to caregiving for one or many parents, we are also caring for school-aged children as well. The Pew Research Center calls us “multigenerational caregivers.” I think many call us the “sandwich generation.”
About three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) have a child younger than 18 at home, and 12% of these parents provide unpaid care for an adult as well. These multigenerational caregivers provide more than two and a half hours of unpaid care a day, on average, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Along with my brother, I am caring for my father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease over 12 years ago. We really started our caregiving journey when my mother passed away in 2012. She had been his primary caregiver until then. We are fortunate to have him in a fabulous, full-time memory care facility with every resource available to him.
Even so, being a multigenerational caregiver provides a variety of challenges, including missed work, less sleep, increased stress, time away from our own families, and more. Along with caring for our own children, how do we manage it all?
I’m here to say – first and foremost – go easy on yourself! It’s a hard job, but there are ways to make it an easier and healthier experience for you and your whole family. Here are ways I’ve found to help improve my “sandwich generation” experience:
Build a Family Plan
Sit down with your siblings and relatives that are helping to care for your parent. Decide on responsibilities and activities that need to get done to provide them with the best support. Then divide and conquer. Assign responsibilities to family members, and build a back-up plan when members go on vacation or are unavailable.
My brother and I take turns visiting my dad. In addition, we assign ongoing roles: I manage my dad’s healthcare, and my brother manages my dad’s finances. It’s a great partnership that is enhanced with regular communication to make sure we’re always collaborating. We even share online calendar invitations to make sure we both know when important dates and appointments are coming up.
Take Your Kids With You
A wise psychologist once told me that it is so important for my kids to see me take care of my dad, and to even take part in the caregiving. It teaches them the importance of family and the value of elders and how they should be treated as they age.
This was a new perspective because I often sheltered my children from my easily-agitated, forgetful father. Now I bring them along every chance I get and include them in story-telling, doctor’s visits, and basic caregiving. I know they are learning life skills and building more compassion for others through these visits.
Build Your Network
I recommend meeting and surrounding yourself with people that can help, so you have resources readily available for consultation and support. I am so fortunate to have volunteered for the Alzheimer’s Association in Colorado for many years. Through this organization, I now have true friends and great acquaintances that are subject matter experts in healthcare, research, senior living facilities, senior home placement, senior caregiving, public policy, and more. I can’t stress how important it is to your own positive state of mind to have these folks on speed dial when you have a question or need a resource to help with your parent’s situation!
Build in Time to Blow off Steam After a Visit
After visiting my dad, I’ve found that I become stressed out and more agitated just managing the care for someone who doesn’t remember my name, asks the same thing over and over, and gets agitated easily. And I consider this minor compared to others who are caring for their parents with cancer, Parkinson’s, broken bones, and other significant ailments that require even more intense hospital time and attention.
When coming home after a stressful visit with my dad, I’ve found that I can be short, grumpy, and even downright unbearable to my own poor little family! I’ve found that giving myself an extra 30 minutes to go to Starbucks, or sitting in the car to listen to a short podcast, or just taking a short walk helps me calm down and get re-centered. I highly recommend building in extra time after a caregiving visit before going home to your family. It gives everyone the break they need!
Give Yourself Some Grace
Most importantly, I think most caregivers feel a ton of guilt for not doing enough or often not feeling as though we do the right things to support our ailing parents. In addition, we often also have guilt around spending less time with our own families. Stop it!
We’re doing the best we can, and we need to cut ourselves some slack. I often take solace in the memory of my dad telling me more than once when he was more lucid in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, “I don’t want to be a burden on you. Take care of yourself and your family first.” I believe that this is what most of our parents truly want for us.