The sandwich generation is caring for children and older loved ones, and they’re increasingly squeezed between the two.
When Vicki Salemi’s mother began experiencing health issues, the former corporate recruiter, a career expert, author and speaker who now runs a career consulting business, knew she would have to make some adjustments.
Being self-employed gave Salemi the flexibility to frequently travel from her New York City home to New Jersey, where her mother was receiving care, and work from the hospital and other remote locations.
The time involved in managing her mother’s finances and other responsibilities, however, made some aspects of scheduling difficult.
“It was like working three full-time jobs,” Salemi said. “And my mother’s needs changed day to day. You can’t think far ahead in terms of pitching different projects and speaking engagements.”
Salemi is not alone. The sandwich generation is raising young children while also supporting aging relatives. It can be exhausting work that affects your career, your finances and your well-being. But caregiving doesn’t have to be career sabotage. Here’s how to juggle this challenging balancing act.
The Challenges of Caregiving: No, it’s Not Your Fault
Family caregivers provide billions of hours of unpaid care each year. This work is inherently valuable. Yet many family caregivers feel unseen. They may hear criticism from loved ones or find that partners and children dismiss the value of their work. They may struggle to get time off of work to care for loved ones or find that they’re constantly trying to keep all of their balls in the air.
This is challenging, difficult work. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the problem isn’t you. It’s that caregivers don’t get the support they need. Caregiving work tends to be invisible and devalued. But it’s life-saving, life-affirming work that creates a positive ripple effect throughout society.
But what about the caregiver? Caregiving demands time and often money. It can be difficult to keep up with your obligations, especially with the demands of paid work. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your career. You deserve the chance to advance your career, and doing so may be an important aspect of self-care. So don’t allow the challenges of this important work to demoralize you. Instead, a bit of ingenuity and support can go a long way.
Juggling Caregiving and Work
No caregiver can do it all alone. Yet many believe that asking for help constitutes some sort of personal failing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Getting your life and your schedule under control begins with recognizing the need for a little support.
Try these strategies:
- Lean on your partner. There’s no reason one parent should have to do all of the parenting heavy lifting. Ask your partner to step up and shoulder the load alongside you.
- Get help from family. Some caregivers find that their family has a lot of opinions but is unwilling to offer much help. Next time your sister or uncle tells you what you should be doing, tell them what they could do to make things easier. You may be surprised by how readily people pitch in when they know what you need.
- Find flexibility at work. The Family and Medical Leave Act entitles most employees to 12 unpaid weeks of time off work to care for themselves or a loved one. Consider making use of this time during a family caregiving crisis. And don’t shy away from asking for other accommodations. Would working from home two days a week help? What about a modified schedule? If you still can’t make it work, consider going part-time or freelancing to maintain your skills rather than quitting work altogether.
- Take care of yourself. It’s a cliche because it’s true. You have to put on your own oxygen mask first in a crisis. You can’t be a good caregiver to your loved ones if you’re falling apart. So carve out some time for self-care, and know that doing so is not selfish. You deserve a shower, a good meal, a good night’s sleep and a few minutes alone every day.
- Recruit some paid help. Your children deserve to have many adults who care about and are invested in their well-being. Hiring a babysitter a few days a week expands your village of support and helps you enjoy parenting and caregiving more.
- Prioritize. Caregivers are inherently compassionate, loving people. And that means it’s easy for them to feel like they have to do it all — and do it all alone. This is a recipe for caregiver burnout. Instead, prioritize the most important caregiving tasks, and let everything else fall by the wayside until things calm down.
- Budget your time. Time is the most valuable asset you have and the only asset you can never earn back. Treat your time like it matters by creating a time budget. Consider how much time you want to spend on various caregiving tasks as well as how much time you can afford for each task. Then commit to a schedule that makes good use of your time. For example, you might take Mom to her doctor’s appointment after dropping your child off at soccer rather than driving across town multiple times each day for these trips.
- Consider senior living. The right senior living community affords your loved one a quality of life that’s difficult to get at home. It offers nourishing meals, daily support, plenty of opportunities to stay active and a chance to nurture meaningful relationships. Many residents wonder why they didn’t move sooner. Senior living can improve your loved one’s quality of life and your own, all while offering a beautiful place to visit and plan family celebrations.
The realities of caregiving are tough. But so are caregivers. With a little help, you’ve got this. Learn more about managing caregiving and your career while still enjoying a little time to yourself with our free guide, “How the Sandwich Generation Can Reduce Caregiver Burnout.”