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Caring for Your Parents and Your Kids

Lisa Tabachnick
Dec. 6, 2009

Stuck in the Middle -- The Sandwich Generation

The sandwich generation

Your kids are hungry for dinner, your husband is stuck at work, and your father keeps calling you from the seniors' home because he can't find his car keys--again. Did you ever think you'd be trapped in the so-called "sandwich generation" caring for children at the same time you're caring for an aging parent or relative? Many men and women in North America feel these same pressures today. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, in 2002, almost 3 out of 10 individuals aged 45 to 64 with unmarried children under 25 in the home were also caring for a senior. This amounted to some 712,000 people.

Guilt anyone?

Not only are there emotional consequences arising from caring for an elderly parent, there are physical, organizational and financial issues as well. You might feel guilty about leaving your kids at home with a sitter to take your mother to a doctor's appointment. Or, perhaps, you might feel guilty thinking about your dad sitting in the retirement home by himself while you're on vacation in another city. Seems the combinations for creative ways to feel guilty are endless.

Consider this wisdom from Rebecca, a special education teacher In Richmond Hill, ON. She says, "It's hard to distance your needs from the endless needs of your parents which tend to focus on taking care of their finances, physical care, being their advocate with other caregivers and your children's needs."

Her advice is based on a pragmatic approach to being in the sandwich generation. "You need to make time...for yourself [and] as a couple," Rebecca stated recently. She also recommends having:

  • local social workers (through the government if possible) assigned to your parents' case to help alleviate some of the burden
  • having your parents' bills and banking set up as direct deposit/pay

Have you considered hiring professional help?

As mentioned, for those who can afford it (or who have parents with suitable savings), hiring professional help for mom or dad can be a blessing for everyone involved. A friendly, safe, licensed retirement home or hands-on seniors' home may also be required. My own grandmother was able to live in a high-end seniors' home for the last few years of her life. She had her own one-bedroom apartment, made new friends, noshed in a lovely dining room with nutritional meals and received the (minor) healthcare assistance she needed on a daily basis. Bear in mind, however, that the obstacles and solutions will be different for everyone.

When grandma wants to stay in her own home

Of course, my Grandma, as well as many other seniors, would have preferred to stay in her private apartment for a longer time. However, her grown children felt she would be safer, and ultimately happier, in a retirement home. Dealing with parents who do not want to move or won't admit that they have a physical or mental need for increased care can be trying for their frustrated grown children, especially those who have small children of their own. My own mother-in-law dealt with the complaints of her mom when she and her brothers insisted that Nana move out of her detached home and into a retirement home. It was a long, emotional process but ultimately it worked out very well.

Have you considered having your parent move in with you?

Although it's stressful trying to juggle small children and senior parents, it can be wonderful for both parties to get involved with each other. If your aging parents are living in your house, your children will have the opportunity to get to know their grandparents. This is a very special relationship which should be nurtured if at all possible. And, of course, it's emotionally beneficial for seniors to spend time with children--especially their own relatives. My mother-in-law concurs. Her suggestion regarding aging parents and small children "is to throw them together because they can benefit so much from each other." Of course, if granny or grandpa live with you and enjoy their peace and quiet, they may feel overwhelmed with youngsters singing nursery rhymes at all hours or teens gossiping in the den with their friends. However, just like parents and their kids, all families need to learn to work together.

The PB&J in the sandwich generation

As the PB&J in the sandwich generation, you must manage your own needs, your partner's needs, your children's needs and your parents' needs. It can be an exhausting combination but one that can also be rewarding and fruitful if you ask for the help which is now available more than ever on websites such as Care.com. Remember that you have to take some time out for yourself on a regular basis, even if it's just a moment here and there -- caretakers need to be taken care of too.

Lisa Tabachnik Hotta is a freelance writer and editor living in Toronto. She has two young children whom she loves spending time with and a passion for writing about issues that touch human lives.

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