Caring for kids and parents at the same time is tough. These tried and true tips will help take off some pressure.
I scooted my chair up to the banker’s desk and positioned my mother on one side of me and my stepfather and his cane on the other. We were at the bank with a purpose, to get my name on their checking accounts should I need to take over paying bills. Behind us stood my 15-year-old son, waiting patiently to open a checking out with me and deposit the first paycheck from his summer job.
As I sat in the middle of my parents and child, I realized I firmly represent the sandwich generation, people who are caring for older family members and their own children at the same time. Nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child, according to Pew Research Center.
Sitting smack in the middle of two generations, both needing my attention, is a tough space to occupy and one that I am only just beginning to settle into. I am wise enough to see the signs that as my children are growing older, so too, are my parents. Part of me hasn’t wanted to think seriously about the increase in doctor appointments that make up their daily routine. Part of me doesn’t want to worry that my mother no longer drives and my stepfather may need to stop soon. I’d much prefer to focus on balancing job deadlines and getting dinner made for my three children and husband.
But in many ways, I am fortunate in my predicament. My children have grandparents who tell them stories about life without cell phones. My mother still gives me sympathy when I have a migraine or cold. My children are watching me model what caring for a parent should look like. Through it all, I’ve learned some tips that may help you if you find yourself in the sandwich generation. Here are five ways to make your situation easier:
1) Let your children help
My older son now drives and has a job close to my parents’ home this summer. At least once a week after work, he visits, takes them out to dinner and picks up groceries for them.
2) Pay attention to signs
A few days before the bank scene, I had received a frantic phone call from my mother. I almost didn’t answer because I was trying to finish a work deadline and get my son to his job. But gut instinct kicked in, a strange feeling that I should take the call. I immediately heard the panic in my mother’s voice. “We’re lost,” she said. “We have been to this dentist’s office a dozen times, but today, Danny can’t find it.” I felt my heart skip a beat. My 90-year-old stepfather had driven them about 40 minutes away from their home and they were about 40 minutes away from mine. I glanced at the time and knew I needed to get my son to work. My mind raced, what should I do?
“Forget the dentist, just go home,” I told my mother. “We will find you a dentist closer to your home.” As she relayed my suggestion, I could hear the relief my stepfather’s voice, even across the crackly connection. Sometimes, it’s difficult to admit a parent or elderly loved one can’t do certain tasks for themselves anymore. Ask questions and tune into cues.
3) Discuss finances
This can be awkward but extremely necessary. By discussing finances, I learned my parents had stopped paying their homeowners’ policy on their home. I moved into action, helping them figure out their finances and getting them a new policy. I learned to never assume everything is under control.
4) Talk to friends
Many of my friends are dealing with similar issues with their parents and children. Some have had good information to share about resources available.
5) Create a medical information file
I had this already for my children, but now I have my parent’s medical information in a folder on my desk, including their doctors’ names, prescription medicines and medical history. It took a while to compile but it already has come in handy.
Some days, the responsibilities on my plate feel overwhelming. But most days, I feel fortunate to have family to make memories with me. Yes, I can confirm what Pew Research has discovered: Adults in the sandwich generation are just as happy with their lives overall as others.