Our family focus column usually centers around parenting and activities and strategies that lead to effective and enjoyable child raising and family dynamics. However, according to the Pew Research Center, 1 of 8 American adults between age 40-and-60 have primary responsibility for care of at least one adult parent. Several million in addition, try to assist in this type of family dynamic from a long distance away. As baby boomers continue to age and life expectancy increases, social demographers see the “sandwich generation” adding even more adult parental care in the years to come.
So called, because this generation of adults is often sandwiched between caring for their children and parents, many adults find themselves pulled into many directions and facing a wide range of responsibilities. Here’s a brief list of tips to help overcome the emotional challenges of being “sandwiched.”
Embrace the positive. When your daily load seems unsurmountable, try to take a moment to appreciate what you have, and to value the role you play in the lives of those you love. Sadly, children don’t stay young forever and parents can progressively lose their ability to care for themselves. You’ve been placed in a position to make life better for both adjacent generations. There’s a good possibility that many of your friends and colleagues don’t have this opportunity.
Share the wealth. Look for occasions when adult parents can visit with other relatives or friends, and when children can enjoy sleepovers or extended stays with family or friends. See if neighbors can help out with trips to the doctor or the store. If your children are old enough, enlist them to spend time your parents, to help with activities like grocery shopping, cooking and yard work. In addition to the positive memories and opportunity for your kids to learn the importance of responsibilities, these activities can make your parents’ and children’s lives more interesting and stimulating, while giving you the breather you need at times. If you have siblings, near or far, consider involving them in decision-making for your parents. There’s no need to take this on by yourself, if there are viable alternatives.
Keep priorities and perspectives. Sometimes we are our own worst critics. Give yourself permission to do the best you can and not to worry if a few balls get dropped and the house isn’t spotless. It’s fair and reasonable to prioritize your workload into “must do’s” and “nice to get to’s.” Organize your life so that you get done the things that need doing, without stressing over those that don’t.
Care for the caregiver. Finally, you can’t be at your best in navigating your hectic life, if you aren’t at your best. Make sure you’re well-rested, eating a nutritious diet and paying attention to your personal physical, mental and emotional fitness. It will make it easier to rise above the challenges of day-to-day life and big decisions. If you find yourself struggling with your situation, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with friends, family members, your faith leader or a professional counselor.