Dear Mr. Dad: My elderly father can’t take care of himself any longer and has just moved in with us. My four-year old is complaining that I’m spending more time with my dad than with her, and my 16-year old is complaining about all the extra responsibilities he’s had to take on. And, of course, my husband is feeling neglected too. I think I’m about to snap. Is there something I can do?
A: Welcome to the sandwich generation! If it comes as any comfort to you, you’re not alone. About one in eight Americans aged 40-60—that’s about 9 million of us—are juggling playdates and a parent’s medical appointments and trying to stay sane at the same time. And as you’ve discovered, caring for an elderly person and children at the same time is incredibly stressful. Your marriage can suffer, your job performance can slip, and you can end up feeling depressed, anxious, exhausted, and physically ill. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to relieve some of the pressure that comes from being squeezed from all sides at the same time.
• Take care of yourself. It may seem a little self-centered to put this one first, but the truth is that if you can’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else either. So make sure you eat right, exercise, get plenty of rest, and have some time left over for yourself. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to burn out and the better you’ll be able to keep up that hectic pace that so many people are counting on you to maintain.
• Learn to accept—and ask for—help. Being a martyr won’t do you or those you’re caring for any good. So instead of gracefully turning down those “if-there’s-anything-I-can-do-just-call” kinds of offers, assign specific tasks, such as, “Please come on Tuesdays for an hour after lunch,” or “Going to the grocery store on Thursdays would be a big help.” And don’t just wait around waiting for the offers to come in. Sit down with your immediate family and divvy up the responsibilities. Everyone can chip in somehow.
• Find out about community resources. Churches and social groups often have volunteers who can provide regular or as-needed assistance. There’s also a Federally funded Agency on Aging in every community that can help you find local resources. The National Eldercare Locator, 800-677-1116, can refer you to the agency nearest you. In addition, careguide.com provides resources and referrals for childcare as well as elder-care.
• Get your kids involved. Don’t try to keep them in the dark—they probably already know what’s going on and they may have a lot of questions. Young kids can help out by bringing grandpa a blanket or drawing him a picture. And your teen may be able to drive grandma to the doctor. Getting your children involved provides a wonderful opportunity for the younger and older generations to get to know each other better. Be careful not to push too hard, though, especially if the older person’s behavior or physical condition might scare your child.
• Talk to your employer. At least half of caregivers make workplace accommodations such as passing up promotions and travel, leaving early or even quitting, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving (caregiving.org). So check with your employer to see if there are already any workplace initiatives in place. You may, for example, be eligible for a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Or you may be able to telecommute, use flex-time, or change your shift. The more cooperative your employer and the more control you have over your schedule, the better you’ll be able to manage your caregiving duties.
Previously published on Mr. Dad