If you’ve ever felt the pull of raising your kids and being responsible for your parents’ care, you’re in the sandwich generation. This growing population of American parents are stressed out, running in at least two different directions and often left wondering how they can manage to do it all. Add the threat of COVID, which has altered the lives and routines of kids and parents, and you have a recipe for a truly stressful situation.
The Pew Research Center reports more than one in ten parents care for an adult parent in addition to their own children. As women have children later in life and adults live longer, this scenario is
becoming more and more common. Parents ages 44 and under are spending about three hours a day on caregiving for their kids and their own parents, while parents 45 and over spend about two hours a day, likely due to the fact that their own kids are older and require less hands-on caregiving, according to Pew. Self-care often goes by the wayside and caregivers are left feeling both mentally and physically overwhelmed.
A big reason for the stress has to do with expected roles and lack of communication, according to University of Utah Department of Psychiatry gerontologist Anne Asman, MS.
“There are psychological reasons why a disconnect exists, largely because older parents want to protect their adult children, who in turn, are focused on their own children and have challenges when role reversal is needed,” says Asman. The relationship between adult children and their aging loved ones needs to evolve to prevent delays in providing appropriate care, she says.
Irina Tanenbaum, CEO and co-founder of BRIGHT, a brain health and wellness technology company, is the mother of two young children, ages 5 and 8, and also takes care of her parents who live in Bloomfield, 30 minutes from her home in Jersey City.
For Tanenbaum, the task of caregiving for multiple generations can often feel logistically impossible. As a wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur, the only way to function without sacrificing her own physical and mental health is to ask for help. “My husband helps with cooking and kids’ activities,” she says. “We also have a babysitter who not only helps with the kids’ homework, but she also cuts their hair.”
Leaning on others for support is just one way parents can manage the stress. Other ideas include:
FIND A SUPPORT GROUP
Even though it sounds time consuming, the emotional support you’ll receive from others can have lasting benefits.
In addition to letting family members pitch in, farm out other tasks whenever possible, like using a meal delivery service or hiring someone to clean your house.
GO EASY ON YOURSELF
Besides tending to your own health (and getting enough sleep and eating healthy meals) forgive yourself for sometimes having to miss important events. You can’t be in two places at once.
SEEK OUT PROFESSIONAL HELP
When emotions get too overwhelming, consider finding a counselor or therapist to work with or a trusted clergy member or friend you can open up to.
“I am realistic that I can’t be there every moment, so I like to make the time that we are together count,” says Tanenbaum. “For my family, that means squeezing in weekend hiking trips and weeknight chess games.”
Susan Goldman of Hoboken started a business, Cre8ive Crayonz, with her 6-year-old daughter during the pandemic. She says it’s difficult to find the time to reach out to new customers in her community while providing care for her mom who lives outside of Philadelphia.
“My father just passed away in June unexpectedly so my brother and I have had to be very present to help my mom,
who now has a live-in because she is unable to care for herself since she has Parkinson’s,” she says.
Goldman drives an hour-and-a-half each way twice a week to be with her mom. Her brother’s help has been instrumental in navigating the challenges of caring for two generations of family.
“We each know our strengths and share the responsibilities in caring for my mom,” she says. “I’m a great planner and organizational person so I tend to deal with the everyday tasks—scheduling doctors’ appointments, arranging transit for my mom, arranging for friends to visit, ordering her necessities etc.,” she says. “My brother handles a lot of the long term and financials since my father has passed away. My brother and I are a great team and work together well to ensure my mom and her aide have everything they need for the day to day.”
For families that have multiple generations living under one roof, the stress can be even greater. It’s not only difficult having so many people in your immediate vicinity relying on you, but younger kids can be scared or confused by the growing medical needs or failing health of a live-in grandparent. If this is your reality, it’s important to create boundaries, take time for yourself and keep a trusted friend on speed dial when you need to vent.
Hopefully, you can end up creating new traditions together as a family and the different generations can learn from one another. And on days when that feels impossible, remember to give yourself a break and remind yourself that you’re doing your best!
Choosing In-Home Care
For seniors who want to stay in their own homes but need extra help with medical needs or day-to-day tasks, in-home care can be a lifesaver. Casey Holstein, director of client relations at SYNERGY HomeCare of Metro New Jersey, says people choose in-home care for their parents for a variety of reasons including budget, proximity to family and loved ones and if the level of care that is desired/needed is attainable at home. Perhaps the most important reason of all is the desire to stay in their own home.
Factors such as budget, privacy, pride and cultural differences sometimes make seniors resistant to the idea of in-home care at first, says Holstein. But there are so many benefits when people agree to receive help.
“We need to remember that most people have accepted help on numerous levels for years, whether it be lawn care, a cleaning service or a handy person,” says Holstein.
For many, in-home care means more independence. “The alternative, which is often isolation, can mean missing friends and activities,” says Holstein. “Have frank discussions about what mom and dad want.” And remember that in the end, it’s truly a family decision that should be made with parents and their adult children.
Choosing Senior Living
The freedom that comes with not having the burden of home ownership and the ability to socialize with other seniors in an engaged, supportive and caring community are just two of the reasons seniors and their adult children choose a senior living community.
“There still are misconceptions regarding continuing care retirement communities, including that they are only for individuals with serious health needs,” says Dan Dunne of Erickson Senior Living. “The fact is, from the first day at one of our communities, residents think of it as a new beginning and one of the best life decisions they have ever made.”
Oftentimes, it’s the friendships and human connections that seniors value most, says Dunne. “By being able to spend well-deserved time as they choose, residents have increased opportunities to enjoy the abundant amenities on our campuses (fitness centers, pool and clubs, gardening) and stay connected to friends and family.”
The right community can empower seniors to live longer, more independent and vibrant lives. “By moving sooner, seniors are giving their families the gift of having the peace of mind that their loved ones are safe, happy and living life to the fullest.”
Dunne says one adult child who helped her parents move into Cedar Crest, an Erickson Senior Living-managed community in northern New Jersey, said: “I’m so happy that my parents are safe and enjoying all of the wonderful amenities at Cedar Crest!”