Life in the Sandwich Generation

Many Baby Boomers today find themselves caught in what has now been identified as “the sandwich generation.”  These parents have school age or post-secondary students to take care of as well as the added stress of supporting aging parents.  Becoming a parent to an aging parent can bring on stress and additional challenges that many are not prepared to cope with.

Aging Parents Needs

Our aging parents can be at a variety of stages in their life journey.  Some are still living in the original family home but may be finding that personal care and home upkeep is becoming a bit more than they can handle.  Some of our parents are in retirement or nursing homes while others can find themselves in and out of hospital with increasing frequency.  For our parents, this loss of independence can be very frustrating.  As well, often the burden of care can often fall on the shoulders of one sibling.  A Statistics Canada Report discovered that women tend to spend on average 29 hours a week providing care to aging parents while their male counterparts contributed 13 hours.  Men tend to assist with home maintenance for aging parents as well as transportation assistance.  Women provide more personal care, such as bathing, dressing or feeding, and in-home care such as food preparation and clean up.  (Statistics Canada, November 2006, Perspectives, Vol. 7, no. 11, Balancing Career and Care, Wendy Pyper)

Self Care

During this very stressful and hectic time for the sandwich generation, one’s personal needs often fall by the wayside.  Many experience high levels of stress and anxiety and have had to reduce work hours and social contacts.  Feelings of guilt and questioning if you are doing enough also arise.  As this level of engagement can go on for many years, the tendency for burnout is very high.  It is important to balance our responsibilities to our children, our parents and ourselves.  Below are some strategies that may help caregivers who are at the point of needing a break:

  1.  It may be time for a family meeting to let your siblings know how much time you are spending with Mom and/or Dad and that you need some assistance.  Don’t expect to get 50% off your plate, but see if your siblings would be willing to pick up a few duties to reduce your workload.
  2. Teenage and post-secondary aged children can also help.  Even just a once a week visit with their grandparents can give you some time off.
  3. Self-care is extremely important.  If you get sick you can be of no help to your parents.  Try to carve out a few hours a week for your personal likes – exercise, yoga, mindfulness meditation, meeting a friend for coffee or a trip to the library.
  4.  Prepare yourself at night for a restful sleep – a leisurely walk around the block, taking a soothing bath or shower, watching a funny TV program or reading a novel.
  5. Ensure that you have a strong support network – other family members, neighbours, closest friends, support groups or a counsellor.

This is also an important time to ensure that your parent’s affairs are in order and have “the talk” with them.  Find out what their final wishes are, be sure they have an updated will, a living will and two powers of attorney – one for personal care and one for property/financial issues.

As a sibling myself who has managed firsthand the needs of both of my aging parents, I can assure you that if is a difficult task but one that at times can be very rewarding.   This sense of duty runs very deep within ourselves and being a supportive caregiver also means we need to ensure that our own needs are not neglected, even if we can only carve a few hours out of the week for self-care.