If you have children and are also caring for an aging parent, you're a member of the sandwich generation—and you're not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 10 million boomers are now raising kids or supporting an adult child while providing financial assistance to an aging parent.
Jugglers and Ringmasters
How you feel about being part of the sandwich generation—and your success as a caregiver—depends in part on how you think about your role. Some caregivers see themselves as jugglers. It's up to them to keep their career, their marriage or relationship, their kids' lives, and their parents' affairs moving smoothly, providing just enough energy to keep them all aloft in their proper formation. The pressure is on them. If they let their attention waver for just an instant, the whole framework could come crashing down.
Other people think of themselves as ringmasters. They do their part in each sphere of their life—on the job, at home, and with their loved ones. They take responsibility for setting overall direction and provide coordination, but they depend on others to make their own contributions. Their individual effort on behalf of their loved ones is less heroic, but their collective approach to caregiving is likely to be more effective—and less taxing.
Making the Transition
For many people, the idea of being a ringmaster, while appealing, may seem outside the realm of possibility. There are some steps you can take to move in that direction:
- Use technology. One reason that caregivers hesitate to share caregiving responsibilities with family members is that managing group caregiving can seem to be more trouble than just doing it alone. The National Alliance for Caregiving has a solution. When you go to its Lotsa Helping Hands Web site, you can set up a free, private group calendar where you can post caregiving tasks that need to be accomplished. Family and friends can then sign up to take them on. The Web site generates a summary report showing who has volunteered for which tasks and which tasks remain unassigned. The site tracks each task, and sends notification and reminder e-mails automatically to the appropriate parties.
- Do your homework. There are a number of highly regarded guides to help you generate workable ideas about sharing caregiving responsibility. They include The Complete Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde, Two for the Money: The Sensible Plan for Making It All Work by Jonathan and David Murray with Max Alexander, and How to Care for Aging Parents, by Virginia Morris and Robert Butler.
- Ease the financial strain. Caring for the aging is a national priority. Find out if your loved ones qualify for federal, state, and local benefits by filling out Web forms at the National Council on Aging and at the U.S. government benefits site.
Don't neglect to give your loved ones the opportunity not simply to play a greater role in their own care, but to do something, no matter how small, to take care of you. As a favor, ask them to set up appointments during the day while you're working, or if possible to run a small errand. And if they would like to host you and your family for dinner, by all means accept. People who feel less dependent are apt to act more independently.
The first stop in getting organized is to consult the Eldercare Locator, sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging. It will connect you to the agency on aging closest to your loved one's home, which in turn will direct you to local senior services. There are also a number of helpful resources that you can find directly on the site.