It’s so common for middle age adults to be taking on the physical, financial, and/or emotional care of both their parents and their children that it has its own term, the Sandwich Generation. According to PEW Research, 47% of adults in their 40’s and 50’s find themselves pinched between two generations.
It’s no surprise that the research shows that sandwich generation adults often experience higher levels of stress than other adults and are more likely to say they always feel rushed or pressed for time. More significantly, with an increase in college age children living at home and the costs of in-home senior care or assisted living on the rise, many report bearing financial responsibility for both their children and their aging parent—often impacting their own financial future or well-being.
Caring for Yourself is Critical
With all of these responsibilities, it might be easy for anyone who identifies as “in the sandwich” to forget about their own needs, but self-care is critical to effectively supporting loved ones.
‘Self-Care’ refers to actively identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. On an airplane, we know that if an oxygen mask drops down we are to put our own mask on before assisting others; the same rule applies to nurturing those we love – only when we care for ourselves can we successfully care for others.
“Caregivers often put the needs of everyone else first, juggling competing demands of children, parents, and spouses and neglecting their own health and well-being,” says Nancy Masters, MSW, MPH, Associate Executive Director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, “Prioritizing self-care is essential for everyone in a caregiving role, but especially those in the sandwich generation.”
We’ve put together five tips for the sandwich generation to help you care for your loved ones – without losing sight of yourself.
1. Set boundaries around your time
It may feel like you always need to be in three places at once, but setting boundaries around your time will help you get clear about what you can and can’t do. Healthy boundaries means having sometimes to say “no.” Nancy says, “Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.”
2. Get finances out in the open
Talking openly with your parents and young adult children about your financial situation is important. Explain that you need to be considering your financial future while also caring for your loved ones. Setting limits can relieve some of the stress or uncertainty about your financial role.
It is also a good idea to talk to both a financial planner and estate planning attorney about your family’s situation for guidance, strategy and advice. Ask about how you can best plan for anticipated costs in the future and find out if you or your parents could be eligible for any benefits or financial help.
3. Make it a family affair
One of the key elements of self-care is to be willing to ask for help when you need it, yet sometimes caregivers are so overwhelmed that they lose site of the fact that there are loved ones that may just be waiting to be asked!
Nancy suggests engaging family members in the care of an aging parent or a child whenever possible, saying, “Reach out to siblings and see if they are willing to help. Family members from out of the area can often take on specific tasks by phone or email, or time their visits so you can have a needed vacation.” She also recommends that you find ways your spouse or partner can take something off your plate or provide additional support. Adult children, nieces, nephews, and family friends can also help with meals, errands, or by assisting with other chores.
4. Plan ahead
If you’re moving into a caregiving role, do you know what your parent’s priorities and wishes are for their care? Having conversations with them as early as possible will help give you peace of mind if the time comes that you need to make decisions for them. Ensure they have an advance directive (including a durable power of attorney for health care) in place or create one together.
5. Seek out professionals and organizations who can address your unique challenges
Navigating the challenges of caring for two generations at the same time is not easy, but there are programs and organizations that are very experienced in tackling what can feel like complex issues.
Nancy says, “Caregivers often feel that they should be able to handle everything themselves, but sometimes a team approach is best.”
She recommends contacting a family-focused organization like JFCS, saying, “JFCS is in a unique position to help families through all stages of life. We support those in the sandwich generation with everything from managing an aging loved one’s care, to respite in-home care, to parenting consultations, to caregiver counseling. JFCS programs, which support families through all phases of life, also provide expert guidance for families facing particular challenges such as caring for parent with dementia or a child with special needs.”
As for the best place to start, Nancy recommends sitting down for a family consultation through Seniors At Home. Our senior care experts meet families every day who are navigating the challenges of caring for multiple generations. A consultation offers you and your family members a space to discuss your concerns and challenges, what is working and what is not, and professional support and guidance to come up with a plan that takes into account everyone’s needs.
The stress of caregiving can affect the whole family, but for the sandwich generation it is especially important that you don’t forget to put on your oxygen mask first! Nancy says, “Try to do one nice thing for yourself every day—even if it something small. Taking care of yourself will make a big difference in your ability to take care of your loved ones.”
To request a family consultation, or to find out more, call Seniors At Home today at 415-449-3777 or contact us online.
To find out more about the various ways in which JFCS can support your whole family, visit www.jfcs.org