Today the "sandwich generation" -- people most often between the ages of 35 and 55 -- may find themselves providing care for aging parents and their children under age 21. This group of people is often called "sandwich generation" because they are wedged between dual caregiving responsibilities.
The sandwich generation keeps getting bigger as a result of women bearing children later in life, more women working, and parents living longer due to improved healthcare technology. A national study conducted for AARP shows many older Baby Boomers are confidently assuming these dual caregiving responsibilities because they are well-educated, work full-time with above average incomes, and are married. In fact, more than 70 percent are providing care simultaneously for their parents and children, and believe they're managing quite well and surprisingly with very little stress. These Boomers may also have fewer children under the age of 21, and may have other children over the age of 21 who can help with some of their caregiving duties. But, these Boomers may also be caring for children, parents, and their own grandchildren.
Although this group is coping with the demands of caregiving, research indicates African Americans-who represent 11 percent of the sandwich population-experience more stress than other ethnicities. Stress among African American Boomers is often the result of:
- Traumatic personal and family incidents, including serious illness and death-many having had a family member die in the past 12 months.
- More single parent households, due to lower marriage rates among older African American Boomers.
- Multi-generations living in a single household-approximately 25 percent of African American Boomers have children aged 21 or older living at home, and almost 10 percent have grandchildren living with them.
However, while facing these challenges, this generation of African Americans remains optimistic and committed to caring for their extended families.
Many caregivers can rely on their siblings, neighbors, and friends or seek support from faith-based and community organizations, physicians and other healthcare agencies. Here are some suggestions to help you juggle and cope with the responsibilities and challenges of caregiving for your loved ones and yourself.
Draw Strength From Your Faith
More than 60 percent of Baby Boomers cite the power of prayer in helping them cope with stress associated with caregiving, particularly for aging parents. Turning to your faith can help you emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Also your church or synagogue and other faith-based community organizations may have volunteers to assist you with child care, running errands, preparing meals, or simply reading to your loved one. All of these services enable you to take some much-needed time for yourself.
Seek Family Support
Maintaining open communications with immediate family members and siblings lets them know how you're feeling. Doing so gives you a chance to ask for help with tasks such as housekeeping, calling for prescriptions, or assisting with homework for a young child in your household. If a daily "check-in" with everyone isn't possible or realistic, try to plan a weekly or bi-monthly activity in which you can all participate, such as preparing and enjoying a meal together. If proximity of siblings is a problem, consider creating an online journal or message board that everyone can access. Your family assistance may help you manage the caregiving workload and alleviate some stress.
Talk to Your Employer
With the majority of the sandwich generation employed full-time, the responsibilities of caregiving inevitably can affect work schedules. One of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is to hide their responsibilities from their employers. Talk to your supervisor about your caregiving responsibilities. Ask if there is any flexibility for your work hours to accommodate doctor visits for your loved one. Some companies will let you come into work early or leave late, or even work 4 days a week. You never know until you ask, and most employers want to work with you to accommodate your needs and ensure you keep working for them! Often, major employers can give family leave time to their employees.
Get Professional Assistance
Talk to your loved one's doctor about what to expect regarding his or her condition, and ask about concerns related to medications, schedules, diet and exercise. You should also be sure to contact your own doctor when you're feeling stressed about your caregiving role. Your doctor can suggest ways to alleviate stress ranging from a variety of physical activity programs, such as yoga or brisk walks, to obtaining assistance from community and social service organizations. Also consider searching the Internet for listings of national and local government agencies offering counsel and assistance about caring for loved ones with specific diseases or conditions.
Set Aside Time for Yourself
The emotional stress of caring for others can be overwhelming. Try setting aside just one hour a day for something that you like to do. This might be reading the morning paper with a cup of coffee or taking a walk at lunch instead of eating at your desk in the office. Consider calling or visiting a close friend. Although spending this time on yourself may seem an indulgence at first, taking it will help you avoid burnout and give you a well-deserved break.
Although the demands of caregiving are challenging at times, sandwich generation caregivers feel that providing care enhances relationships with their loved ones and also brings them a sense of personal satisfaction.
Dr. Janet Taylor is a genConnect.com expert helping couples navigate the challenges of relationships and parenting. Dr. Taylor is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Columbia University affiliated Harlem Hospital. She's a frequent guest on the "Today" show and a contributor for many outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine.