Whether it’s raising your own children or caring for aging parents, being a family caregiver is fraught with fulfillment that comes at a price: stress and strain.
It’s becoming more common to be caught somewhere in the middle — being a parent to one’s own children while simultaneously caring for elderly parents. Known as the “sandwich generation,” this unique group of middle-aged adults can find themselves in a pickle.
To help navigate that feeling of being sandwiched, chew on these five ideas to help you manage the double dose of stress:
1. Don’t do it alone
Finding yourself sandwiched between caring for your 80-year-old mother and your 21-year-old who decided that college wasn’t for him can leave you at your wit’s end.
Conflicting responsibilities can stress you out to the point where you feel like you can’t get anything done. Find balance in everything life throws at you by prioritizing more pressing caregiving tasks and outsourcing or asking for family members’ help with more flexible duties.
Just like there are day cares for young children, adult day care centers can help alleviate caregiver stress by providing elder companionship and stimulation.
2. Take personal time
Caring for everyone else in your family can lead you to neglect the very thing you need to continue caregiving — your own health and well-being. The loss of personal “you” time is one of the biggest stressors facing the sandwich generation because it can feel like you never have a minute alone to regroup.
At least once a day, give yourself time to close your eyes, take several deep breaths, and simply clear your mind. Developing several mindfulness strategies can help you better cope with stress and lead a more emotionally and mentally healthy life.
3. Spend quality time with partner
The multiple caregiving roles you find yourself in can potentially harm your intimate relationship if your attention is constantly divided elsewhere. Be diligent in assessing how sandwich caregiving has impacted your intimate relationship, and make time for each other at least once a week.
Spending quality time with your partner at the end of a particularly stressful week can help you reenergize together. Having a special date night is its own form of therapy, and it strengthens you and your partner’s bond in the face of strain.
4. Be open with communication
The sandwich generation is notorious for having to manage shifting relationship dynamics in the context of caregiving. For example, what do you do when your live-in aging mother-in-law questions how you run your household? This tension can be incredibly stressful, as it falls on top of caregiving responsibilities.
In cases where you suddenly find yourself landlord of your young adult daughter, the best strategy is open, clear communication. Stewing about what’s bothering you will only make things worse in the long run, so it’s best to face it head on and come up with a game plan together with your loved ones.
5. Don’t neglect your financial future
Navigating multiple caregiving roles comes with physical and emotional demands that overextend your time, mental health, and your financial resources.
Stress tied to economic strain can cause some in the sandwich generation to neglect their own financial planning for later life. To help offset this risk, begin planning for retirement early, such as padding out retirement savings accounts and assessing your insurance plans.
The bottom line
Being a member of the sandwich generation will undoubtedly come with some form of added stress in your life. By understanding the types of stress you’ll encounter as you take on new caregiving roles, you can more easily cope with strain.