Sandwich generation: 9 tips for managing your unique stress
The "sandwich generation" is made up of the people who are both taking care of their children and helping their aging parents. Predictably, this causes a lot of stress. At times, it can feel impossible to manage everything. You're only one person, after all!
"I don't think I handle the stress of being in the sandwich generation well at all," says Jennifer James McCollum, a blogger at Generation X, mother of three and caretaker of her 80-year-old mother. "Every night when I go to bed, I worry about my mother and my kids. I worry that I didn't do enough that day to care for them, to love them, to enjoy them. There are never enough hours."
However, while being "squished" in the sandwich can be overwhelming at times, that doesn't mean there aren't helpful coping techniques available to make everything a little more manageable. Here are nine tips to help.
1. Practice self-care
If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to properly take care of others. Plain and simple. Still, it can be easy to forget about self-care when caught up in your daily jam-packed schedule.
According to Rick Lauber, author of "Caregiver's Guide for Canadians", self-care comes in many forms, including making sure you get exercise, proper nutrition, sleep and regular doctor appointments."
Attending to your own physical and mental health will make you that much more capable of caring for those you love," McCollum says. "It took me a long time to figure that out."
2. Save time while updating family
Being a caregiver often means that other family members probably pester you with well-meaning requests for updates, which just adds even more stress to your over-taxed schedule. Your sister wants to know how your mom's blood pressure is doing. Your cousin wants to see pictures of your kids. Providing updates to everyone at once may help lower your stress level.
Laubner suggests sending a group e-mail or text with photos or health updates. For more details, you can also use Google Drive or Lotsa Helping Hands to create a document or spreadsheet that everyone has access to and can update.
3. Share the load
You may handle most of the caretaking duties, but that doesn't mean you need to do everything yourself. Stop stressing and start delegating. If your kids are past the pre-K age, you can even get them to pitch in to help with household chores. "As my children get older, I try very hard to move them to greater independence," says McCollum. And as her kids learn to help out more, the burden is lifted a little off her and her husband.
Ask your siblings to help out by dealing with your dad's financial paperwork or taking your mom to the store. Then you can switch gears and have more time for coloring with your kids -- or taking a much-needed nap.
4. Get some help
If volunteers aren't lining up to help, hiring an extra hand may be the answer you were looking for. Find a senior care aide to help your mom while you take your son to baseball practice. Hire a babysitter to watch your kids while you take your dad to the doctor. Or even just get a housekeeper to clean your home, so you can focus on your family.
Did you know there are even intergenerational day programs that combine adult and child care under one roof? Learn more about this option.
5. Talk to your employer
Do you have a job in addition to your caregiving responsibilities? Talk to your boss about switching to a more flexible schedule. Or see if your company offers benefits like child or senior care.
6. Prioritize what matters
You are one person and there are 24 hours in a day. Those two numbers won't change. Make a list of all of the things you think need to be done. Then prioritize them. What can you cut out? How can you minimize your workload each day?
7. Be selfish
It's okay to take some time for yourself on a regular basis. In fact, it's necessary! Give yourself permission to do at least one thing for yourself every day -- just because you enjoy it. Whether it's watching an episode of the Big Bang Theory, going to a yoga class or reading the latest Nora Roberts novel, put yourself first. Then you can come back to your caregiving duties with fresh eyes.
8. Lean on support
While nothing will take your stress away completely, sometimes just venting your frustration can help. Talk to other family members and friends about what you're dealing with. Or join a local support group. You'll often find that other people in your life are going through similar situations. You can act as one another's support system when things get particularly challenging.
9. Be in the moment
As hard as it might sound, just being in the moment and trying to enjoy life as it is can help take the edge off of your stress. "I went to see my father every Sunday evening in the nursing home for a decade," says McCollum. She'd go at 8:30 p.m., after her kids were tucked in for the night. "It wasn't nearly enough," she says. McCollum elaborates, "Sometimes, it killed me to go, but now that he is gone I'm so glad I did."
And when all else fails, take a step back and breathe.
Brenda Barron is a mother and writer. Her work has appeared in numerous online outlets and she loves offering tips and tricks for other parents. She also enjoys knitting and watching Doctor Who. Find out more about her at Digital Inkwell.