If you’re caring for aging parents while raising a growing family, you are part of what’s called the “sandwich generation.”
Juggling caring for the old and the young is tough. Pair that with job strains, home repairs or money concerns and the list seems endless.
The continued growth of the aging population means the ranks of caregivers are growing. Even younger people are being pulled into caring for their elders. In fact, nearly 25 million people in the U.S. currently care for older friends or family members.
In a recent article about the challenges of a graying America, geriatric specialist Dr. Janice Knebl said, “Caregiving needs will affect us as a society — we should all care about this.”
Adding to the likelihood of overlapping child and parent care is the fact that many people are having children later in life.
Now more women are having babies in their early 30s than in their 20s. And although overall birth rates have declined for women under 40, the birth rate for women in their early 40s has continued to steadily increase over the last three decades.
This long-term shift means that it is more and more common for middle-aged people to have young children and teens, at a time when they may also have to start caring for parents or other older family members.
No wonder so many people are feeling overwhelmed. It’s a high-stress role.
If you try to do too much when caring for both your children and older family members, it could cause stress or lead to other health issues for yourself. Changing what you can about the situation will help.
People are stretched thin, but planning can make things go more smoothly, according to AARP.
Staying organized is one way to avoid caregiver burnout. Planning in advance can help avoid confusion. You don’t want to find yourself wasting the little time you have.
Sharing the workload is one more way to help keep yourself healthy. Shed some tasks and share others. Don’t feel guilty. You can’t do it all.
This could mean getting kids to help with household chores or caregiving tasks or encouraging your kids and older family members to spend time together while you get things done. Ask close friends or relatives for help with things like meal preparation or transportation to appointments or other errands.
Set up a meeting with family and close friends to talk it through. Be open about how much you can handle. Even if you’re used to doing everything yourself, learn to ask for help.
When asking for help, try to make sure the person you’re asking is able and likely willing to do the task you need help with. For example, someone who isn’t comfortable with hands-on caregiving tasks might be willing to help with other types of things like errands, paperwork or making appointments.
Keep in mind that even if people are eager to help, they will need your guidance at the start. It may seem like more work at first, but the initial investment in time and energy will pay off later.
Do Your Research
There are resources available for finding help. It’s worth putting in a little time on research.
If you are looking to hire additional help, check into online organizations that help you match your needs with a verified provider. You can find help with child care, elder care, pets and household chores. Be sure to check out a service you’re thinking of using by asking other people you know, checking online reviews or consumer feedback organizations, or asking your health care providers.
The American Academy of Pediatricians’ healthychildren.org website offers tips on finding safe, reliable help with child care. The site also offers tips for how to choose what kind of care best suits your needs.
Another resource is the eldercare locator, supported by the U.S. Administration on Aging. The group connects caregivers with local support and resources.
You can also find resources especially for caregivers of people with certain illnesses. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association has advice for people caring for someone with the disease.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips to help people caring for someone with a disability.
You might consider joining a caregiver’s support group. You can attend in person or find support in online groups. Hearing from others who are in a similar position and sharing your own experiences with them can be helpful. They may also be able to help you find reliable sources for help.
Share the load.
Look for others who can help. Maybe it’s a paid caregiver who visits regularly. Maybe another family member or a family friend can handle some parts of the care. It’s good to have people lined up to step in for breaks or during a time of crisis. You don’t have to do everything yourself.
Sources: Caring for Elderly Parents, U.S. Department of Labor, 2016; Five Tips for Sandwiched Caregivers, AARP; Feeling Alone as a Caregiver? Build a Backup Team, AARP, 2015; Caregivers for Alzheimer's and Dementia Face Special Challenges, Alzheimer’s Association; Be a Healthy Caregiver, Alzheimer’s Association; Making Connections: Consumer Needs in an Aging America, U.S. Administration on Aging; Births: Provisional Data for 2017, National Center for Health Statistics, 2018; Family Caregivers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018; From Making Sandwiches to Being Sandwiched, CDC, 2016; Sharing Caregiving Responsibilities, National Institute on Aging, NIH, 2017