Every day more and more people find themselves becoming part of the Sandwich Generation. This term refers to anyone who is raising kids and caring for a senior member of their family.
Everyone finds more and more responsibilities on their plate each day, especially caregivers. As more people rely on them for care, their stress grows, and their own well-being can get put aside. This is especially true for people whose parents need full-time care.
Faces of the Sandwich Generation
What does the Sandwich Generation look like? We talked to three members of it to see how their experience as a caregiver impacts their lives.
Wife, Mother, Caregiver
Kim, a married mother of 5, has been caring for her mother for almost 20 years. Her mother had a stroke that left her unable to drive. It also affects her speech. A fall caused a broken hip, and most recently she developed eye issues that require regular visits to an out-of-town specialist.
She and her husband also recently got power of attorney over her mother-in-law. She struggles with mobility and is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Despite being in an assisted living facility, she still requires extensive care and transportation to doctor’s appointments. This means Kim or her husband have to take off work.
They are the only caretakers for their mothers, while also putting their youngest child through college, and working full-time. While Kim has the advantage of working in senior care and being well versed in healthcare, the role of caregiver takes its toll.
“We will always take care of them, they’re our moms, but it can be draining. Some nights we just come home and go straight to bed because we’re so exhausted.” – Kim R.
CEO of Care
Steve is a parent to two grown kids, manages a large manufacturing company, and is the sole caregiver to his 89-year-old mother. His job usually requires a minimum of 60 hours a week. When he clocks out there, he puts on his caregiver hat.
Although his mother is still independent, he has begun to fill the gaps for tasks she can no longer do, like home maintenance and lawn care. When it comes to his day-to-day life, work and caring for his mother take priority, and other things come second.
“I’m lucky when it comes to my mom, she doesn’t need much, but I can tell she’s slowing down. I definitely try to keep myself healthy, but with a mom who’s almost 90, her health comes first.” – Steve N.
Lois has three grown children who she raised and homeschooled. While she and her husband don’t have to provide care for their parents, they have been enlisted to help care for their granddaughter, Jenny.
Jenny’s parents both work, but finding affordable childcare near them has been a struggle. So, Lois stepped in to help watch her a few days a week. She loves getting to spend the extra time with her granddaughter, but she found wrangling a toddler is more difficult in her 50s.
“We have a lot of fun, and I’m glad I can help. It’s more draining at this age though, especially when I still have to cook, clean, and manage bills since my husband works full-time.” – Lois S.
Special Sandwich Stressors
We all deal with stress, and it can easily become overwhelming, but what happens when you take the stressors that impact the average person and add on caring for children, grandchildren, parents, and other family members?
Work is one of the primary stressors for most people. Navigating office politics, making sure you get enough hours and having more and more responsibilities put on your shoulders can burn anyone out.
When it comes to the Sandwich Generation, the stress doesn’t stop there. For many caregivers, there has to be a balance between earning enough to pay the bills and having enough time off to run errands and take their loved ones to medical appointments. This balancing act can even prevent them from being promoted.
Balancing these responsibilities can be made harder by employers who aren’t flexible. More and more caregivers are facing backlash and pushback at work when they need that time off or scheduling flexibility. When your job wants you to work, but won’t work with you, the stress rockets up.
Keeping your budget balanced is a challenge on the best day. Prices keep rising but pay doesn’t, which makes it that much more important to make every dollar count. But when you have to take off work to care for other people, it can feel impossible to catch up.
Caring for others also usually comes with a price tag. Whether it’s grandchildren or senior parents, the people caregivers are responsible for usually don’t have an income or bring in very little. This puts caretakers on the hook for medical expenses, bills, and other financial obligations.
Not only does this added financial responsibility add stress and pressure to caretakers’ shoulders, but it can force them to deprioritize their own needs or desires in order to have enough money to pay bills for the people they care for.
Balancing It All
The average person wakes up each day, has breakfast, works, comes home, makes dinner, handles small chores like laundry if needed, relaxes, and then goes to bed. Now add in getting kids ready, fed, to school, home from school, fed, played with, and put to bed. Now add getting Grandma dressed, feeding her, taking her to a doctor’s appointment, picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy, getting her home and fed, and helping her bathe.
Most people would agree there aren’t enough hours in the day. For the Sandwich Generation, it can feel like there are even less. And when it comes to priorities, caring for themselves or enjoying their lives are the first things to get cut off.
This constant on-the-go feeling, combined with a never-ending list of things to do and people to care for can quickly lead to caregiver burnout. But the bigger problem is that caregivers don’t get a break, even when they’re burnt out, stressed out, and exhausted.
Supporting the Supporters
With so much weighing on the mind and shoulders of the Sandwich Generation, it may seem like a losing battle. But there are things you can do as a caregiver to lighten your load or to support the caregiver in your life.
First and foremost, delegating tasks is not a sign of failure. Enlisting those around you to help, even with small things, can make it easier to breathe. Don’t be afraid to enlist your family, friends, or neighbors to help out. Most people will be happy to help, and when you hand off one or two tasks to others, the load becomes more manageable.
Hiring help can relieve a lot of stress, but if that’s outside your budget look at volunteer organizations near you. You might be surprised how many options exist to help you with the big and little things.
Take a few minutes each day to identify what is stressing you out and make a simple plan for tackling that task. Sometimes knowing there’s a plan can help relieve stress even if the task isn’t done yet.
Also, try to carve out time for yourself to relax. Even if it’s just a minute in your car before you go in to work, listening to calming music while running errands, or deep breathing for 60 seconds before you start your day, the little things can add up.
That being said, it is also important to take time for yourself to relax. Think about what makes you feel calm, or something you enjoy doing, and slowly incorporate it into your routine. It doesn’t have to be monumental, but you do deserve time to yourself, to relax, and enjoy life.
If you were to sit down and take a few minutes to map out your money, you’d be surprised to find there may be quick and easy ways to spend smarter. And even if your money is stretched to the max, having a budget helps you keep track of where it goes, and what upcoming expenses you have.
When big bills pop up unexpectedly, see if a payment plan is an option. More places than you think offer people the opportunity to make smaller monthly payments, including utility companies, maintenance companies, and even healthcare providers.
Have a family meeting and talk about the things on your plate. This is a great time to ask for help and for patience. Even if your kids, grandkids, or elders can’t take on your responsibilities, making them aware of them helps encourage them to be more patient, and try to work with you to make things simpler or easier.
Find a place or a person where you feel safe discussing your stress and things that are weighing on you. Write them down, talk to a friend, and discuss it with other family members. Whatever your safe spot is, make sure you have a place to go or a person to turn to when things get overwhelming.
Don’t be afraid to be honest about the stress you’re under. Having to put up a front that everything is okay will only add to it. Almost 50% of Americans are part of the Sandwich Generation, and there is no shame in being stressed, run ragged, or worn out.
Making the Most of It
Being the primary caregiver for your family is an important, but stressful role. At EPIC, we do everything we can to support you and keep your entire family healthy. Not only do we provide care for all ages, but we can also do family appointments to help you maximize your time.
Our onsite diagnostics keep you from having to go multiple places for simple tests, and we offer services like physical therapy, exercise physiology, and nutritional counseling in our offices as well. Our dedicated team of Care Managers are also here to help you manage your health, and your family’s health, and connect you with helpful resources to make life easier for everyone.
When it comes to your care, we insist on excellence every time. Schedule an appointment today to get a team of EPIC Warriors on your side! www.EPICHS.org/appointment/