One of the most difficult caregiving issues – outside of the actual caregiving tasks – is finding a way to balance caring for your elderly parent’s needs with your immediate family’s needs, particularly if you have children in the home. You’ve heard the term “sandwich generation,” but the full impact of that role is difficult to imagine until you are living it. Your mother needs groceries but your child is home sick from school, or your mother is ill but your child has a baseball game. How do you manage the needs of two very different carees without feeling like you’ve failed both?
Organization is Key:
Juggling the schedule of an elderly parent and children can be overwhelming. The best way to keep it all together is to set up a system to organize it all. I personally prefer an old fashioned planner, where I can drop all of my appointments on a monthly and weekly calendar and keep notes in the back. You can include contact information for all of your mother’s doctors, as well as the soccer schedule for your daughter. Of course, the best system is the system that works best for you, so if you prefer a digital calendar, Google has a wonderful calendar that can be shared with other people. If you are coordinating rides for your children or parents, this is a great way to make sure everyone knows where they have to be.
Set up a good record-keeping system to ensure you don’t forget an important piece of information. Is it your mother who is allergic to penicillin, or is it your husband? Set up a medical file either in a binder, in a file cabinet or on your computer with important health information so you don’t forget those important details.
Share the Load:
Just because you live the closest to your elderly parent doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. I had a family who ran their mother’s care like a business. The three siblings all had their own young children so they divided up the oversight of their mother, who had dementia, in a way that worked for them.
The oldest daughter lived across country, so while she couldn’t handle day-to-day tasks, she handled her mother’s finances and found services for her. She hired the caregiving agency, cleaning service, hairdresser and transportation services for her mother. The son lived an hour away, but worked nearby, so he took his mother to her medical appointments and the youngest daughter, who had young children would handle her mother’s grocery shopping and managing the caregivers. They were a well-oiled machine. If you have a sibling who doesn’t live nearby, taking on your parent’s finances is a great way for them to contribute to your parents’ care.
If you are an only child or your siblings aren’t able to provide care, can you outsource services? Perhaps your siblings can help cover the costs to take some of the load off of you. I had a customer who had two sons, but was estranged from one of her sons. While he did not play a role in her care, he did contribute financially to help his sibling, who he was very close to.
Make it a family affair:
Do you need to check in on your mom but your spouse isn’t available to stay home with your children? Take them with you! Your parents will love to see them and I’m sure they would love to see their grandparents. You can have them help with the simple tasks such as work around the yard, laundry or even vacuuming. I knew a family whose high school-aged daughter would spend her spring break with her grandmother, cooking lunch for the two of them and going with her on walks. What a wonderful bonding experience for the two of them!
Or, alternatively, bring your parent along on your family activities. When I was a child, my mother used to pick up my grandmother every Saturday and she would join us in whatever activity we had planned, or, we would all go to lunch together. It was wonderful to spend time with my grandmother, and even after she was in a wheelchair, we were still enjoy her company over lunch.
Let go of the small things:
This is a really difficult one for me, but not everything has to be perfect. Sure, the clean laundry is still sitting in the basket and the dishes are still in the sink, but the world truly will not end over these small things. Accept that sometimes, good enough is enough and forgive yourself for the imperfections. It is far more important for you to take a 20 minute nap than to have your floors mopped. As someone with a Type A personality and a chronic illness, I struggle with this every day. I have to remind myself that my health is more important than having all of the mail sorted or the clean laundry put away. As long as the clothes are clean, we’re set!
Live in the moment:
While it is extremely overwhelming to take care of the needs of both an elderly parent and children, try to remember that the busy-ness and exhaustion of this time will not last forever and there will be a time when you will cherish the time you had with both of them. Our parents don’t live forever and our children won’t always be so young. This is really difficult to put into practice, but it if we try to focus on the joys of now and let go of the small things, it can help us accept our present.
Are you sandwiched? What are some of the ways you handle caring for elderly parents and children?