Navigating life in the sandwich generation is tough enough during the cooler fall, winter and spring seasons, but the challenge becomes even greater during summer. That’s because for many people who are balancing child-rearing and eldercare, the months between September and May provide somewhat of a built-in safety net: school. But when the last bell of the year rings, and school is out for the summer, suddenly the structure so many family caregivers relied on is gone.
I remember the first summer I was responsible for my father who had dementia. The disease hadn’t progressed too much, so I thought it would be easy to bring him to Cape Cod with my husband and kids. It wasn’t so easy after all. For the first few days, I felt torn between competing demands. My kids wanted me to take them to beach, but the sand posed a fall hazard for my father. I couldn’t leave him alone, or could I? What if he fell at home? What if he had a heart attack while we were gone? Or what if he simply felt lonely and left out?
For the first few days, I sent my husband and the kids to beach without me and I hovered around my father, driving him crazy. Finally, I went to the local Radio Shack and bought my father a simple cell phone and purchased the minimum plan. That small expense gave me peace of mind that my dad was OK when I was with the kids, which meant could be fully present.
Here are five tips for navigating the summer months when you’re feeling the squeeze of the caregiving sandwich.
1. Simplify mealtime
Take your cue from the summer season and relax your meal planning a little. Sure, you might still need to go to work every day and the family still needs to be fed, but life slows down just a bit in the summer, and you can too. Loosen up your expectations and rules around schedules, and lower your standards a bit. The warmer months call for lighter fare, like sandwiches and salads, so don’t stress yourself out cooking big meals. Cut corners where you can. You can still provide nutritious meals without turning on the oven.
You can also turn mealtime into an activity for the whole family. Nicole Foster, of Baltimore, says her family likes to choose a city or country, research it and make a meal from that region. “In the process, (we) learn about the country and some of the culture,” she says. “We do it routinely and will do it more in the summer months.”
2. Use mornings to relax
In addition to making meals low stress, try to do the same for morning routines. Don’t fret about getting everyone up and moving every day. The days are longer in the summer months, so why rush? If schedules allow, keep the early hours slow and simple. Mornings are a good time for some intergenerational activities. Encourage your parents to tell stories or your kids to perform shows — maybe a play or a concert — for your parents. Keep a stack of books, board games and puzzles out and available so the whole family can spend time interacting. While your parents and kids are occupied, you can get some work done or take time for yourself to exercise or read a novel.
3. Maintain summer traditions — with some modifications
Does your family rent the same vacation house on the same lake every year? Or are you a family of adventurers who seek a new destination every chance you get? You can continue your summer traditions with both parents and kids, as long as you make some adjustments for all members of the family. Rick Lauber, author of “The Successful Caregiver’s Guide” and former caregiver for both of his aging parents, says intergenerational vacations are possible as long as you choose accessible accommodations for family members who use walkers or wheelchairs and you schedule your itinerary loosely.
“When it comes to summer traveling with mom and/or dad, family members can make the trips easier for all,” says Lauber. “I recall my sisters and I taking mom and dad to Mt. Rainier. By traveling separately — my sisters and two children drove in a minivan, while I flew with my parents halfway and then rented a vehicle — we made the trip more comfortable and had two vehicles at our destination. We also rented a wheelchair from the local Red Cross for my mother’s use.”
4. Create space
While school vacation is a great time to encourage your parents and children to spend time together, remember that they will need some time away, too. Be sure to plan activities for just your kids and others for just your parents. Togetherness is nice, but there is such a thing as too much togetherness.
If budgets allow, consider enrolling your kids and parents in day programs or camps at different times so you can focus on just one or the other or at the same time so you can get a much-needed and deserved break.
5. Let technology help
Invest in some simple technology so that you can leave your parents at home while you take the kids for ice cream or let your children wander in the park while you sit with your parents on the bench and have peace of mind that everyone is safe and OK.
Rebecca Edwards, a safety and security expert with Safewise suggests:
- Wearable GPS trackers for young kids.
- Medical alert systems that will signal for help if your older parent falls.
- Cameras with two-way talk.
“Whether you’re at the office or on a run to the grocery store, a camera with a mobile app will alert you when there’s movement and let you check in on what’s happening at home,” says Edwards. “And being able to talk to your kids or parents in the moment is such a blessing.”