The American population is aging, and this means a rise in the number of adults caught in what researchers call the sandwich generation—those who are caring for aging parents while still caring for their own children. Nurturing loved ones on both ends of your life, all of whom have major needs, is emotionally and physically draining. It can also throw a wrench into your financial planning. How can you cope with such a heavy load without cracking?
First of all, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Around 1 in 8 Americans age 40 to 60 is caring for an aging family member while raising a child. But you will be forced to make choices about priorities, learn to delegate responsibility, and accept that you won’t be perfect at both jobs every single day. Cutting yourself some slack may be the most important key to preventing burnout while you’re sandwiched in between.
Take a break from volunteering.
We love volunteers! They make every school, church, and community a better place. However, if you’re pulling double duty as a caregiver, you have very little margin in your schedule. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to some or all of the volunteer opportunities that come your way for a season. A time will come when your responsibilities shift again and you’ll be able to give more to the outside world and causes you hold dear.
Train your older children to pitch in.
In the not-too-distant past, it was common for three or more generations of a family to live together as grandparents aged. As a consequence, older children were expected to contribute more fully to the running of the household: caring for younger siblings, helping with chores, and taking more responsibility for their own needs. Even though current culture typically expects less of tweens and teens, they are capable of so much more! Delegate more tasks to them and the whole family will benefit.
Recruit your siblings to help with aging parents.
Many times the care of an older parent falls to one adult child more than the others. Sometimes, it’s simply because the other siblings don’t know what to do. If you find yourself in the role of chief caregiver, talk with your siblings about ways they can contribute to the effort. If they live nearby, it may be hands-on help. If they live further away, it might be by contributing resources toward hiring more professional help. Make sure they’re aware of what the specific needs are and how they can meet them.
Let go of perfectionism.
If you’re in the sandwich years, it might be a good time to lower the bar on some negotiable areas of life. Simplify your holiday routine from decorations to gift-giving. Relax if the house isn’t as tidy as it used to be. Don’t freak out if you gain five pounds. All of these things can be tightened up again when time permits. For now, just roll with it.
Give yourself an outlet.
This may be the hardest of our suggestions, because it requires time—time you likely feel you don’t have. But allowing yourself a bit of alone time regularly to decompress is vital. Prioritize it so that you have that opportunity to recharge your own batteries and enable yourself to serve everyone else.
Communicate clearly with your spouse.
The sandwich season can put a lot of pressure on a marriage. Make a conscious effort to check in with each other frequently to just say, “How are we doing?” It will give each of you the chance to express where you could use more help, and will provide a chance to strategize about how to accomplish the top priorities.
Accept help from friends.
Just like your siblings can help with the parents, your mom friends are often glad to help out with your kids. Take them up on an offer to drive carpool for you when needed or drop your kid at home after sports practice. Every little bit helps!
Are you part of the sandwich generation?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.