Last week, I wrote about trends I see in family caregiver homes across the country. Today, I’d like to talk about what is arguably the most negatively impacted piece of the caregiving equation, the Sandwich Generation.
A Growing Problem
Today, 47% of American adults are, in some way, caring for and supporting both their kids and aging parents (Pew Research Center). Stated another way, that’s half of our adult population tending to the unique physical, emotional, and financial needs of two vastly different generations—simultaneously.
Caregivers in this situation are members of what has been termed the Sandwich Generation, and are experiencing a problem that will only grow as time goes on. Baby Boomers continue to reach retirement age at a rate of 8,000 per day (AARP), and in 15 years, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65 years old (census.gov). As the population ages, more people will be called on to help their aging parents or other elderly loved ones.
These people have a difficult challenge in front of them, and if it wasn’t already, it becomes truly overwhelming as Mom or Dad’s care needs escalate.
Sandwiched Adults Get Pulled in Many Directions
One comment on last week’s post came from Tina, whose mother has dementia. Tina shared her exhaustion from being pulled in so many directions at once and never having time to herself:
“On the one or two days a week that I have away from [caregiving] responsibilities, I am torn between spending rare alone time with my husband, visiting with my children and grandchildren, visiting with a close friend with a mental illness, catching up at the office or with housekeeping at my own house, or running errands such as grocery shopping for Mom. Some time to myself is much needed but where does that fit among all of the necessities above?”
Six Crucial Tips for Self-Care
Tina makes an important point: How do we make time for ourselves when those we care for require so much? To help answer that, here are my six tips for taking care of yourself when you’re sandwiched between care needs.
- Make a conscious decision to make more time for yourself. As they say, the first step to solving any problem is to admit you have one. Take an honest look at your situation—are you remembering to make time to care for yourself?
- Plan ahead. Ideally, that means planning for your parents’ aging well before you reach a point of critical need, but it can also mean investing five minutes to organize and prioritize your day before you head out to conquer it.
- Live in the moment. Remember, you can’t do everything at once. When you’re with your children, or your spouse, don’t spend your time thinking about Mom or Dad, and vice versa. Being present during your various activities will give you more satisfaction at the end of the day.
- Lose the guilt. Ideally, you would be there for both your parents and your children at the same time, but don’t feel guilty when you fall short of the impossible. You are only one person, who often has to do three different jobs at once.
- Ask for help. It’s not fair to anyone to have to do everything on her own, including taking care of all of her loved ones. Find a babysitter to watch the kids a few nights a week, or look into in-home caregivers who can help your parents with their normal daily activities, freeing you to again be a daughter or son rather than just a caregiver.
- Eat, sleep and exercise. If you’re going to be working hard, your body needs to keep working, too. I personally rely on running for my stress relief. What about you?