July was Sandwich Generation Month, a chance to pay tribute to adult children who are juggling the demands of raising their kids while taking care of aging parents. The number of Americans 65 and older is projected to increase from 40 million in 2010 to over 88 million by 2050, doubling the ranks of those experiencing this stressful combination of responsibilities.
We expect to take care of our growing children. After all, isn't that in the parenthood job description? Even after the last kid moves out and we are settling into the empty nest, if one of them drops out of college, loses their job or separates from a partner, we let them come home. But with ailing parents it can be even more complicated.
From time to time, we all feel like there aren't enough hours in the day. But for the sandwich generation, that's especially true. The stress, guilt and exhaustion that come from trying to keep so many balls in the air can be overwhelming. One goal of Sandwich Generation Month is to raise awareness. Here are some tips so you don't have to cope with all the demands by yourself:
Encourage your parents' independence. Identify what they really need you to do and what they can do for themselves. Have respect for their experience and wisdom as they make decisions and take responsibility. Step back so they do as much as they can for themselves.
Find professionals to help you out. Put this into place ahead of time if you live far away or before there is a crisis. Do your parents need the support of a geriatric case manager? Learn about health care advocates, geriatric assessments, specific gerontologists, in-home help and continuum of care.
There are community resources available. Take advantage of them. Home health and companion companies help with chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping. And adult day care centers encourage supervised time for your parents to socialize while you get a break.
Caregiver groups can be a lifesaver for you. These consist of others who are in the sandwich generation and understand exactly what your life is like. Led by a group facilitator, you'll get support, information, suggestions. You may even laugh a little as you share experiences.
You are more prepared than you think. Look back and track the strengths that have worked for you in the past when you have faced difficult circumstances. For the comfort and well-being of you and your parents, put them into play now.
Your attitude and behavior impact the challenges. Recognize the emotional shifts you need to make as well. Talk to friends who are having similar problems with their parents. Seeing the situation from another perspective can normalize your reactions, help you prioritize the issues and ease the transition.
Take note of the changes your family is experiencing. Remain sensitive to what your parents are going through. And come to terms with your own feelings of frustration, anger, sadness or loss. Address unfinished business with your siblings, resolve the issues and get them involved.
Pay attention to your own needs. As you assume greater responsibility for your parents' care, make nurturing yourself a priority. Renewal gives you more energy and resilience. You'll find that being positive and centered - emotionally stronger - you're more ready to meet the challenges.
These can be a very stressful time in your life. Rely on your coping strengths when you take smaller steps than you would like. Through acts of kindness you'll bring greater joy and richness into your parents' lives. When you spend intentional time with them relish their appreciation, which you deserve. And savor the power of the example that you set as your own children watch how you support their grandparents.
© Her Mentor Center, 2011
Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. is a family relationship expert with solutions if you're coping with stress, acting out teens, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law. Log on to http://www.NourishingRelationships.blogspot.com and sign up for a free ezine,' Stepping Stones,' and ebook, "Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching for Your Goals." Visit http://www.HerMentorCenter.com for practical tips & learn about "Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm."