Experiencing the Sandwich Generation (Part II)

In this second of two blog posts, contributor Renata JL talks about saving your sanity and creating a balance while living in the Sandwich Generation.

My mother is an eighty-something year old widow who is relatively healthy and vital enough to live on her own. I started my family a little later in life, so my two children are still in elementary school. That means that I am, many times, caught in the middle, caring for both ends of my family’s generational spectrum. Most of the time, I like to think that I handle the pressures of care with efficiency and aplomb. But sometimes, especially during a health crisis, I find myself stretched pretty thin. And I know I’m not alone. Welcome to the world of the Sandwich Generation.

The term “Sandwich Generation” was first coined in by journalist Carol Abaya in 2006 to describe the growing segment of society simultaneously caring for both their children and their aging parents.

In a previous post, I wrote about my aging mother’s unexpected trip to the hospital and my subsequent scrambling to make sure all of my responsibilities would be met. It turns out her hospital stay (with its requisite daily visits) was not the ideal situation, but between Medicare and her insurance, the cost of her care was minimal and she had the around-the-clock attention she required. As her release date approached, we were aware that Medicare would pay for the first 20 days in a Skilled Nursing Facility, so with the help of the Caregiverlist’s Nursing Home Star Ratings system, we were able to find her a quality Nursing Home in her area. When those initial days are complete, the real challenges of being a member of the Sandwich Generation begin.

There is, of course, the financial stress involved with caring for my children and my parent, while planning for my own retirement. In this economy, I fully expect that I will need to help support my children for a longer time. Couple that with spiralling living costs, and I’m not sure how much I will have left over to help cover the costs of caring for mom, whether through the costs associated with Assisted Living or Senior Home Care. While the financial costs and responsibilities are fairly cut-and-dried, the emotional stress is the one that can really take its toll. Resentments can easily build between siblings dividing responsibilities, children losing the attentions of a parent to grandparent, and the senior realizing their diminishing independence. There are things that I plan to do to help prevent, or at least alleviate some of the stress involved with generational caring.

Here are some suggestions I found helpful:

Don’t Go It Alone
According to AARP, 29% of adult Americans spend 20 hours per week on caring for their parent(s). This growing demographic means and increased presence on the internet. Web sites catering to the Sandwich Generation abound. Look to them for ideas and support. Sites like sandwichgeneration.org, and AARP have a wealth of information about resources and support.

Talk About It
Gather family together, including children, parents, spouses. If you have siblings (even those living distantly), request that everyone participate in the plan of action. Communication is key and my help minimize or prevent feelings of resentment. Encourage everyone to voice their concerns and work together to find solutions.

Don’t Forget About You
If you are the primary caregiver for both children and parent(s), it may be difficult to carve out time for yourself, especially if you work outside the home as well. Although it may be difficult, you must treat the care you give yourself with as much gravity as the care you give to others. If you are fatigued, depressed or fall ill, you won’t be able to care for those around you. This one rings especially true because, as you know, we here at Caregiverlist are big advocates of “Caring for the Caregiver”.

The future will be demanding, I’m sure. I feel a little like I felt before giving birth, knowing that I would soon be entrusted to care for another human being and not sure if I was up to the task. That worked out somehow — some days are more demanding than others — but with the help of my family, my community and Caregiverlist’s resources, I hope to rise to the challenge of my new caregiver role with as much grace as I’m able to muster.

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We at Caregiverlist, along with the rest of the world, were deeply saddened by the December 14th, 2012 events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, CT. We offer our sincerest condolences to all those affected — family, friends, neighbors. This tragedy reminds us that, in the midst of all the challenges we face as part of the Sandwich Generation, we are truly lucky to have the ongoing opportunity to care for our loved ones.

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