Orlando Counselor on Having the role of Caregiver to an Elderly Parent and Children Simultaneously

Caught in the Middle – The Sandwich Generation

One of the major challenges that Caregivers encounter is finding a way to meet the demands of their children and of their aging parents concurrently. There is a delicate balancing act trying to figure out how to achieve this. While children may want their parent’s attention, they often need to wait while the needs of their grandparents are met; especially if they have limited mobility and need assistance with basic things like bathing and dressing. This can result in a child feeling resentful and getting angry at their grandparents who they feel are taking attention away from them.

Consequently, guilt is a common emotion a Caregiver will experience as they feel they are letting the family down by not meeting everyone needs. One of the ways to minimize these feelings is to involve the children and teach them to take part in the Caregiving process. Encouraging children to maintain good relationships with their grandparents and spend time learning from them about their family history and traditions will help them develop a connection and provide companionship.

The benefit to the grandparent is it helps offset the depression they may feel about their physical and mental limitations. It also helps instill in children a mindset of gratitude for the lessons they can learn from their older relatives.  What becomes a dilemma for Caregivers is how to continue to show respect for their parent when
the roles have been switched, and the Caregiver is now having to make life decisions for them as they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves. As one parent put it, “when did the switch take place where you are now telling me what to do”?

Ten tips on caring for your kids and your parents:

  1. Make sure you have a Support System, which ideally includes other family members. It is important to have another person; family member, neighbor or close friend help out when you are unable to carry out all the responsibilities of Caregiving. This helps when you need to leave the house as they can stay with the parent and fix meals or just keep them company until you return.
  2. Join a Group of Caregivers, a place where you can go and feel validated and share the challenges and resources you have found with each another. You want to be able to discuss the things you are experiencing with someone who can “relate” to what you are going through so they can help ease some of the burdens you may be feeling. A good resource is www.Caregiver.com.
  3. Take time for yourself – Self Care is essential when you have the responsibility of caring for so many others. Schedule a massage, take a trip to the gym, arrange to walk with a friend, or just spend a few hours at the coffee shop to rejuvenate yourself. While some people may think this is a luxury, it is essential for maintaining clarity and not compromising your mental and physical health.
  4. Approach this responsibility as a choice to be joyful and not bitter. It is critical to have a positive attitude about taking care of a parent and not blaming them for burdening you with added responsibilities. Depression can set in if you do not approach this from a joyful perspective as the opportunity to show compassion and give back what your parent gave you.
  5. Find ways to de-stress. Prayer and Meditation are known ways Caregivers have found to release their stress and gain peace and tranquility to face the challenges they regularly encounter. It also helps them release their burdens to a greater power. Additionally, pets particularly dogs,
    can be a major source for experiencing joy as they give unconditional love and can help when you are feeling sad or overwhelmed. They ask for little from you and have a therapeutic effect of helping calming you.
  6. Your approach to Caregiving should be Intentional. Determine what the difference is between helping and enabling. An Elderly Parent may think it is easier to have the Caregiver do something for them rather than attempting to do it themselves. Feel free to challenge and build up their confidence so they are willing to take risks and accomplish tasks without your interference. If an Elderly Parent is disabled, then this approach should include small incremental steps so as not to overwhelm them.
  7. Show your parent respect and recognize that although you are still the child, your roles have changed; you are now the governing adult. This can be a very difficult transition for an Elderly Parent to accept as they raised you and now you are making decisions on their behalf. Diplomacy and humility are important things to consider as your children are watching how you interact with your parents.  One young man expressed this sentiment to his mother, “Thank you for demonstrating to me how to treat you when you are older so I know how it is done.” This is the ultimate compliment a teen can bestow on his mother and demonstrates what a good role model can be in caring for an Elderly Parent.
  8. Set boundaries – If you work outside the home and your parent wants to interact with you during the day, designate a specific time you can touch base so as not to interfere with your job responsibilities. Many companies now recognize that the Baby Boomer generation are primary Caregivers for their parents and are sensitive to this, so communicate your restrictions to your Elderly Parent in advance.
  9. Know your limitations – It is common for Caregivers to suffer from injuries resulting from picking up or moving an Elderly Parent. In fact, many experience ripped tendons in their shoulders and as one person commented, it is like taking care of a toddler who requires a lot of picking up and redirecting. Be careful to assess how much you can do and ask other family members to help out so the responsibility does not rest on just one person.
  10. Accept the demands and things you may need to forgo – It may be necessary to postpone some of the things you would like to do like traveling and visiting friends. Accepting  that you are unable to do some of the things you would like, may cause some resentment, but it can be replaced with an understanding that these things can be able to be experienced at a later date.

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Author: Cathy Pinnock, M.S. a Registered Marriage and Family Therapy Intern at Total Life Counseling Center in Orlando, and parent of a child with ADHD.  Total Life Counseling Center specializes in ADHD and our experts can be reached at (407) 248-0030.

The sandwich generation’s guide to eldercare
By: Wickert, Kimberly McCrone, and Danielle Schultz Dresden.
Demos Medical Publishing  2013
Interview with Ana Maria Quintero Lowry, December 2015