Are you noticing that your caregiving obligations are filling up more and more of your calendar and to-do list? If you have found yourself drowning in both professional and family responsibilities, you aren’t alone. In fact, many adults are in the middle of learning how to juggle caring for their children as well as helping out their aging parents. If you are trying to learn how to balance making it to your high schooler’s basketball game as well as refilling your parent’s prescription on the way, you are a member of the sandwich generation.
The Pew Research Center reports that more than every 1 in 10 parents are caring for an adult in addition to their children. These sandwich generation parents spend about three hours per day on caregiving duties, split between their children and their parents. Caregiving as a member of the sandwich generation is both exhausting and expensive. Juggling the emotional, logistical and financial aspects is no easy feat; but there are ways to make the process easier.
1. Enlist caregiving support.
Members of the sandwich generation are typically exhausted and in desperate need of some type of support from others.
“Sandwichers typically aren’t in the best frame of mind,” Tom Wilson, president of the Caregiver Partnership, a retailer for home health services and products, said. “We use three words: frantic, frazzled, and frustrated because they have no time and little money.”
So what’s a sandwicher to do? Wilson says the primary caregiver needs support and shouldn’t feel guilty about asking siblings for help with costs, hands-on care, and spending time with their aging parent.
But it’s not always that simple, especially for women.
The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that women provide unpaid, informal care that ranges from $148 billion to $188 billion annually. This amount of work can quickly translate to caregiver burnout, leaving family caregivers feeling exhausted, depressed, and even getting ill more often than their peers. Fortunately, if family caregivers receive support from others, they are able to have the time for self-care, reducing their chances of feeling the effects of burnout.
Caregiving tasks can be distributed and delegated among family members, including siblings. Tasks can also be provided by hired professionals to further lift the burden off the primary family caregiver.
If you are a primary family caregiver, don’t be afraid or intimated to ask for help. Often, you’ll find that your family, friends, and neighbors are ready to rally around you to provide the support you need. However, if you don’t ask, your network won’t have the chance to offer their help.
2. Stay organized to avoid sandwich generation stress.
The seemingly nonstop demands on sandwich generation caregivers can be overwhelming, but staying organized can be helpful. Here are a few ways you can keep your caregiving tasks and support team on the same page.
Start by planning a monthly family meeting. Talk about what’s going on, and what you need help with in the next month. You’re more likely to get the help you need if you give very specific tasks. For example, ask if someone can pick up Mom’s prescriptions on the 1st and 15th of every month, or if someone can drive Dad to the doctor on specific days. Then, your family members can check their calendars and offer to take those tasks off your plate. If there are any tasks left over, you can enlist the assistance of community organizations or hired professionals.
Your regular meetings also allow you to set parameters so everyone knows their responsibilities and your limitations as a dual caregiver. This allows you to create a framework for communication and conflict resolution which can benefit everyone as well as encourage the whole family to become a part of the caregiving plan.
You can also harness technology to keep everyone on the same page with your parent’s care. Try a shared calendar or spreadsheet to keep track of doctor notes, appointments, or health updates. You can also use apps such as MealTrain to organize meal drop-offs or other caregiver apps that can assist with organization.
3. Prepare for financial challenges that face adult caregivers.
Dual caregiving can be expensive. While secondary insurance can cover some expenses, bills can quickly add up. Check with a local office on aging or visit the National Council on Aging’s Benefits Checkup site to find out what benefits are available; there are programs that cover a wide range of needs, from nutrition to assistance with heating and cooling bills.
Stressing out about finances is common when caring for an aging parent, but you can feel more confident by being as proactive as possible. For example, involve your loved one’s financial adviser in conversations about budget goals and milestones. You can also speak candidly with your parent’s physician as you attempt to understand what challenges could arrive in the near and distant future. This information allows you and your family members to develop a timeline that can assist with financial planning. Finally, you can also investigate ways to save even more money such as setting up recurring prescription deliveries or utilizing Meals on Wheels.
4. Get the support you need as a sandwich generation caregiver.
It’s not easy being pulled in several different directions. However, don’t let your caregiving duties prevent you from spending meaningful time with your parent. Many family caregivers often lose themselves in the caregiving role and end up missing out on the opportunity to relish in their daughter or son relationship.
Carve out one visit regularly where you leave all caregiving duties, such as refilling the pillbox or checking on the food in the fridge, at the door. Instead, spend that visit taking a walk, looking at a photo album, reading a book, or doing something special together. You’ll find these visits leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on your busy calendar with more vigor and energy.
Remember, you don’t have to handle your caregiving role alone. Even if you don’t have a large support system, there are professionals available to step in and assist you and your loved one when you need it. If you’re worried about your parent and whether they’re thriving at home on their own, it’s never too early to bring up the topic of senior living. Learn how to do it effectively by downloading our free guide, “5 Steps to Help You Talk to Mom or Dad About Senior Living.”