Caught in the Middle – Help for the Sandwich Generation

Twenty million American adults are caring for aging parents at the same time they’re raising young children. Known as the Sandwich Generation, they are feeling the stress.

A recent study of “sandwichers” reports that:

  • 53 percent feel forced to choose between caring for their children or caring for their parents at least once a week
  • 20 percent feel they must choose to care for one or the other every day of the week

The American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey found that mothers in the sandwich generation, ages 35 – 54, feel more stress than any other age group as they try to manage caring for growing children and aging parents.

The pressures of taking care of family members, as well as the worry over parents’ health, putting children through college and saving for retirement takes a big toll. So what’s a sandwicher to do?

Involve the whole family

It’s common for one family member to assume responsibility for older parents. But even the most take-charge, organized person will need help.

Getting siblings and other immediate family involved lightens the burden for everyone, and gives them a chance to show their love for parents, too.

Establish regular family meetings for those involved in providing care. Those that can’t be there in person can participate by phone or Web-cam.

  • Keep a list of updates and concerns about health, finances, legal or housing issues.
  • Talk about problems that may have come up with giving or getting help. Discussing such issues helps avoid hurt feelings and gets problems solved.
  • Focus on the task of caring for the parent, not dealing with old family hurts.

Find a job for everyone. A brother who lives far away can still help with paying bills, researching agencies, or just calling regularly. A sister who lives nearby but who can’t give regular care may be the designated back-up for the primary care giver.

It’s important to get your spouse and children involved, too.

  • Be specific about how your spouse can help, and make sure that you ask for help, not demand it.
  • Check in with your spouse about his or her feelings and encourage them to talk.
  • Be honest with your children about the situation. Answer their questions.
  • Ask them how they’d like to help out. Perhaps they’d like to make cards or show off their newest treasures.

Get outside help 

  • Community groups and churches often have volunteers who can help with home repair, transportation, meals and companionship.
  • Talk to those who see your parents regularly – delivery people, beauticians, barbers or neighbors – and ask them to call you if anything seems out of the ordinary.
  • Look to professional care services when your parent’s physical needs are too much for you to handle.

It’s also important to take care of yourself. Make time to rest, eat right and relax. You’re no good to anyone in your family if you’re exhausted and stressed out.

Caring for two generations at the same time isn’t easy, but it can be managed – if you get some help.

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