During Disability Awareness Month it’s an opportunity to shine lights on the Sandwich Generation that is faced with the biggest juggling act of their lives. In addition to caring for their spouses, children, careers and own selves, they’ve taken on caring for their aging, often disabled, parents. Whether the parents are living with their adult children or their children are helping them in their own homes, the struggle is real. To give their best to their family, career and parents, they have to also give their best to themselves.
How to care for everyone
Caregiving is not a static process where you identify a concern, find a solution, solve the problem and be done. The reality is that you will face ebbs and flows and it’s important to be prepared for the long term by anticipating changes that come along with aging.
The big juggling act
Mary Ellen Gornick, a work-life innovator for Fortune1000 companies who has spent more than three decades in the eldercare industry, sums up the challenges of the Sandwich Generation: “Being a parent in today’s society is challenging in itself. Along with school and the pressure to succeed there, our kids are constantly on the go from one activity to the next. And we all recognize how hard it is to keep work at work and not bring it home. Now add in having to care for Mom or Dad and juggle the myriad of needs they have depending on where they are in the aging process. If the Sandwich Generation caregiver doesn’t take care of themselves, the stress will quickly increase and family, work and the relationship with Mom and Dad will suffer. We just can’t let that happen.”
Spending quality time with family is everything. From going on a vacation to running errands together, the time that you spend with your family is important and to be cherished. For family caregivers, making the time to connect with one another may not be attainable as you’d like and it’s common to feel a disconnect with your children or partner when much of your responsibilities are elsewhere.
With this juggling of responsibilities, the time that you spend on yourself and your own health can dwindle. In a study done to measure the effects of family caregiving, only 15% of surveyed family caregivers reported that they had “very much” time for themselves, while 26% reported having “somewhat” time. Not being able to care for your mental health may impact your relationships with those you love and enjoy. The study also found that adults caring for their aging parents’ long-term were considerably less happy in their marriages when compared to those who had only recently become family caregivers.
Balance through engagement
The good news is that it is possible to create a sense of balance between your duties as a family caregiver and a parent and/or spouse/partner. In order to connect the two areas of your life, involve your children in caregiving in some capacity. Not only does helping out with caregiving allow your children to bond on a deeper level with their grandparents, but it also permits them to gain a sense of responsibility and maturity.
Gornick shared that adult siblings, spouses and partners can also join the caregiving team. “Too many assume that Sandwich Generation caregiving implies just one person, but the concept of ‘family caregiving’ is important,” she said. “Sharing the care either physically, emotionally or financially can make a big difference in ensuring that one person does not burn out.
Alignment with Mom and Dad
“When the adult children and aging adults are aligned with the reality of the situation and in agreement about how to handle it, it is much easier to put resources in place,” Gornick said. “If not, that is where the stress and difficulty come into play. If the child wants to get help and the aging adult is in denial about the situation, conflict may arise, making it extremely challenging to move forward.”
Guilt, the four-letter word
“We see two big barriers to not getting help,” she said. “There is guilt on the part of the Sandwich Generation caregiver who often wants to do more to assist and feels like if they don’t, they will have failed. And then Mom or Dad doesn’t want to let go of their independence or accept their vulnerability. They don’t want to be a burden. Both parties have key emotional issues that have to be addressed in order to move forward with accepting the help that is available.”
As a family caregiver who is also balancing a job, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with the different responsibilities that are placed in your path.
For a member of the Sandwich Generation, who is likely working full time and may even be at a high point in their career, the stress of caring for an aging loved one may begin to affect performance at work. “For many people, what we do for a living can be an integral part of our identity as well as our livelihood, so coming to terms with life changes that can impact our feelings of employment and financial security can be incredibly stressful and lead to high levels of anxiety,” said Gornick. She pointed out those who constantly feel under pressure at work, have a short fuse, can’t focus or notice their work is slipping should consider asking for help.
Taking care of yourself
Taking care of your mental and physical health is key to living a balanced life. With that said, it is easy for family caregivers to focus their time and energy on caring for others rather than themselves. However, making the time to indulge in your own needs does not equate to selfishness.
When it comes to caregiving it is crucial to find the time for yourself and your own needs. It’s important to be aware of how caregiving can lead to imbalance in key areas of your life so you are better equipped to respond and regain balance.
While “being there” around the clock for your kids, aging loved ones and your job, you may find yourself experiencing new emotions. Within minutes you can go from feeling accomplished in your actions and efforts to feeling discouraged. As a family caregiver, you’re met with new challenges every day and you may feel as though you can’t keep up.
Anxiety and stress
Anxiety is one of the most common psychological impacts for family caregivers. Many describe experiencing feelings of frustration, helplessness, anger or even guilt. Feelings of guilt are often prevalent as many family caregivers do not believe that their actions are adequate to take on the responsibility of caring for an aging loved one.
You may be aware of the mental strain of caregiving, but it’s also important to take note of the physical impact such stress can cause.
Take the time to treat your health with care. Try to fit in some exercise where you can, make regular appointments with your doctor, and give yourself some respite care when your mind and body are feeling overworked.
What to do:
- Join a local support group for family caregivers
- Ask for help
- Organize your life
- Know what resources are available
- Take time for yourself
Take care of your health. It is easy to forget about our own health when we are so focused on someone else’s. Schedule regular check-ups and screenings with your doctor or dentist to make sure you are staying healthy. Your family needs you—all of them!
An extra hand can help make this work
Aging is inevitable. Being unprepared is not. As a family caregiver in the Sandwich Generation, you should have several goals:
- Be a great parent to your children
- Be a great spouse or partner
- Keep your career on track.
- Extend your parents’ independence while allowing yourself the joy of being their son or daughter.
And finally, you want to have a balanced life, one where you are happy.
If you identify as being in the Sandwich Generation, when reading this blog, you probably nodded your head in agreement a few times. The subtext is to not be afraid or reticent to ask for help, as a little bit of help today will help you tremendously down the road in this marathon.
If you can imagine removing one thing you’re responsible for each day to make your life less stressful, what would it be? What if someone else picked up the kids from school, got them snacks or took them to their extracurricular activities? Maybe even started preparing dinner? Or took your mom to her doctor’s appointment? Or the kids are off school for the day but you have to work?
When our daily routines fluctuate, especially when the unexpected happens, it can be stressful. Consider having a caregiver for a few hours each day to take care of “that one thing you’d like to remove” from your daily responsibilities. Having a caregiver you can count on each day to remove stress from your life—it’s like buying stock in yourself—you’re investing your health and future.
As previously mentioned, “Caregiving is not a static process where you identify a concern, find a solution, solve the problem and be done. The reality is that you will face ebbs and flows and it’s important to be prepared for the long term by anticipating changes that come along with aging.”
Having a caregiver for a few hours a day is a safety net that will help you and your family ride the ebb and flow of living in the Sandwich Generation. Call SYNERGY HomeCare for a no-obligation home assessment at (877) 432-2692.