Life’s not easy when you’re a member of the sandwich generation. You’re constantly tossed back and forth between supporting your children as they grow, and assisting your parents as they age — leaving your own needs dangerously close to boiling over on the back burner.
I remember watching my mother nearly melt down as she juggled caring for an elementary aged daughter, a teenage son with an infant daughter of his own, and an ailing mother, close to the end of her life. It was one of the hardest things she ever had to manage, and all she could do was try to hold on and not lose hope.
If you’re currently facing the struggles of caring for both your children and parents, consider taking some of the following advice to heart.
Enable Their Independence
One of the easiest ways to relieve some of the stress of caregiving is to allow your children and parents to be as independent as possible.
Start by teaching preschool aged children how to handle daily tasks such as choosing their own outfits, dressing themselves, brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, and pouring their breakfast cereal and milk. It may take them longer to do this independently (as opposed to with your help), so wake them up a bit earlier in the morning to give them plenty of time to get ready.
Once your children hit school age (around 6 or 7), they should be instructed how to make basic meals (such as a sandwiches), wash the dishes, and bathe unsupervised. Age 10 is the prime time to teach your children to cook. Not only does this give them a leg up in learning a valuable life skill, it also allows them to prepare some of the weekly meals and take a little work off your plate.
As your parents age, their independence can be hampered by illness and injury. Encourage your parents to stay as mobile as possible with these steps, as this will stave off a surprising number of problems. Help them stay safe by modifying their home to be more age-friendly. Install grab bars, lower shelves, add more lighting, and remove floor hazards. Reduce the number of errands they have to run by having groceries and medications delivered to the house.
The more independent your children and parents are, the less work you’ll have to do.
Ask For Help When You Need It
Why is it so easy to offer help to others, and yet so hard to ask it for ourselves? Before you get to a point of feeling completely overwhelmed, enlist the help of your family members to keep tasks from piling up. Have your partner and children help with household chores and errands. For instance, if your teenager has a vehicle, ask them to pick younger siblings up from school or shuttle them to activities. Have your partner do the grocery shopping while you’re busy with doctor’s appointments. Make sure everyone is doing their share of the housework. It’s much easier for everyone to pull a little weight than for one person to pull all of it.
In emergency situations, ask your friends and extended family for help. You’ll be surprised how willing they’ll be to run errands, act as a taxi, or watch your kids in a time of need.
Take Time for Yourself
This is one of the biggest no-brainers, and yet it’s often completely overlooked. You absolutely have to make time for yourself. At least once weekly, take the time to indulge yourself completely. Spend a couple hours engaged in one of your favorite hobbies, read a book, take a bubble bath, go for a long drive, watch the latest Blockbuster movie, go to the spa, eat a dozen cookies — whatever gives you the greatest pleasure, do it!
It’s also important to know the signs of caregiver stress and recognize them in yourself. Get support if you need it. You can’t help anyone if you’re falling apart.
I wish I could go back in time and give this advice to my mother. It would have done her a world of good — and potentially helped to ease her through one of the most emotionally draining periods of her life. My hope is that in writing this, it will help someone else in their time of need. You are not alone, there is support out there, all you have to do is reach out.