Cherishing your parents is easy when your parents are healthy and active. But when their health begins to deteriorate, becoming a caregiver can be exhausting. Sociologists call those of us who are caring for our children while we are also caring for an aging parent ‘The Sandwich Generation’.
In my case, I’m raising my four-year-old while caring for my dad who is in his seventies. Because I’m an optimist, I always try to find the bright spot in every situation.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
Multigenerational households are cool
Like a layer cake, there is always something different happening at every level which, when you put it together, becomes a wonderful mix. There is something beautiful about watching my dad push my daughter around on his walker. There is something equally beautiful when my daughter uses her toy stethoscope and thermometer to check on my dad.
Sharing is caring
My daughter is an only child. She has her own room, bed, and toys that never have to be shared. Now she is sharing a room, feeling the tight squeeze of having to share her space, her parents. My friends tell me that this is going to be good for her because she is learning empathy and how to live through transitions.
As we age, we become more routinized in everything we do. Having a new person in the house requires more flexibility in how we handle our schedule, our mental energy, and our priorities. Learning to adjust to a new situation keeps us flexible.
Over-communicate. A lot.
Like with any new situation, my husband and I are learning how to communicate better and more often. We speak up frequently and ask lots of questions. Like you learned as a child, the more you know…
Be Patient and forgiving
This is going to be hard because now you are parenting your child and your mom or dad. Give yourself permission to feel everything that you will feel. Anger, sadness, resentment, and yes, overwhelmed. Remind yourself that just like you learned how to be a good mom in those other stages of life, you will also learn and master this stage also.
Every county in the nation has some type of resource agency for seniors that is funded by the federal government. Find out what resources are available to your mom and dad. Get connected to your local senior center. If your parent was a veteran, there are additional resources available via the veterans’ affairs office.
Make special playdates
Having a grandparent move in is great for the little one until they realize there are sharing mom and dad with this permanent interloper. To prevent that feeling, make sure that you are keeping a consistent schedule, and continue to make special playdates that are just with you and the wee tot. Having a one-on-one time allows them to ask questions and provide you a great opportunity to explain all of the new changes in advance and along the caregiving journey.
Mind the gap (in your budget)
Instead of a crib and toddler bed, it’s shower chair and hand railings. Think about how the new budget items are going to impact your life. See where you may need to make cuts or rearrange some purchases.
Some people don’t have the chance to build these great intergenerational memories with their children and their parents due to distance or death. You now have a great opportunity to model compassion and tenderness for your child. I’m hoping she’ll remember all of this, should I need a caregiver in thirty years.
Caring for a preschooler while being a caregiver isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. Are you part of The Sandwich Generation? What have you learned + what are your tips?