If you’re raising or supporting children while caring for older parents, you don’t need to go to the deli for a sandwich, you’re living in one. In fact, you may feel like you’re squeezed in a Panini machine!
According to the Pew Research Center, 47% of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child. And about one-in-seven middle-aged adults is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
Being a member of the sandwich generation does not have to deplete you. Here are 8 tips to help when you’re spread thin.
- Open up the communication. Talking with family about elder assistance and changing roles is not easy. One of the most difficult conversations concerns finances. Throw in insurance, medical issues and legal decisions and you may want to bury your head in the sand. If these topics bring on difficult interactions, consider including a neutral party or an expert in conversations.
- Speaking of experts. Book time with a financial planner, an insurance specialist, medical personnel and a legal advisor regarding plans for your loved ones and for yourself. This sounds daunting but it’s the best way to free yourself of worries about the unknown. Other valuable experts are family and friends already pressed into sandwich duty. They possess a wealth of knowledge and sharing it adds more meaning to their caregiving.
- Organize your time. Record a log of all family activities for a week so you can see where time is spent. Also, a weekly priority list shared with the family can help everyone think ahead. Consider setting up a shared online calendar that can be updated from cell phones.
- Take care of your body. Remember that old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” Apply it to your body. If you become unhealthy due to the pressures of caregiving, you’ll be unable to give care. It may seem impossible to squeeze in eating right, exercising and a good night’s sleep, so back to that family calendar you created and block off time for healthy pursuits. Enlisting those you care for to participate or support you are other ways to build good health.
- Feed your spirit. Being a caretaker is empowering when you are supported in prayer, through worship and with pastoral care. The ability to see what you are doing as a calling and a blessing to those you serve, will open your heart to the spiritual gifts you receive by giving so much of yourself.
- Let others help. It is crucial to ask for and welcome others’ assistance when you are in the sandwich. Make a list of tasks you’d like to offload, that way when someone says, “How can I help?” you are at the ready with some ideas.
- Vent and accept. There are a lot of emotions tied to family roles not to mention sadness when loved ones are not their “old selves” or are suffering. Spend time with a trusted companion and let it all go. Mark Twain said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Tears and frustrations are normal and bottling them up causes more pain over time. Releasing things by sharing is the first step on the road to acceptance. This new role as caretaker to your children AND your parents is truly difficult but knowing that this is a season and seasons change. It’s best to let go of the bad where you can and embrace the joy where you find it.
- Laugh! Take any laugh you can get and enjoy it! Laughter relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, releases feel-good endorphins and lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. If you can laugh at least once a day, the sandwich won’t seem so challenging and your body, mind and soul will be strengthened.
Living life as a caregiver and provider for both young and old is not for the faint of heart. Seeking and installing the tools you need while you’re looking after loved ones will allow you more control and enjoyment. One day, you’ll look back and be thankful for the many experiences and lessons you gained and as time passes, you’ll find it was a great honor to be “sandwiched.”