Sandwiched between two generations. That’s where more of us are finding ourselves these days. With folks living longer and couples having kids later in life, it’s not uncommon for a 40- or 50-something to have little (or not-so-little!) ones underfoot and aging parents in need of care. And with the 85-plus population the fastest growing in the nation, the trend shows no sign of abating.
While serving as the generational filling has its rewards, it can be taxing, too. Certainly, having to care for the people you once depended on is a big adjustment in itself.
Are you caught in the middle these days? If so, these strategies may help you meet the challenge.
1. Find alone time. Fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like much, but a short break can have a surprisingly restorative effect. Use that time to escape to a quiet corner where you can read, listen to music or just close your eyes. Practice being nearby yet far away at the same time. If you’re not dealing with an acute illness that requires near-constant attention, put aside several hours a week for yourself—have dinner with a friend, get a massage, indulge in a favorite pastime. Remind yourself that you deserve this special time and that you can’t help others if you feel frazzled.
2. Make time for family. Between holding down a job and tending to elderly parents, your spouse and kids may feel left out. Plan one family activity a week and stick to it. Catch a movie, enjoy a special dinner together, visit a museum or take a hike.
3. Say no. It’s okay … really! If you’re too tired to pay your parents’ bills or play Scrabble with your 10-year-old, say so. Pushing yourself past your limits will only create resentment.
4. Evaluate. Take an objective look at your situation. How many hours a week do you spend caring for Mom and Dad? Do they really require that much attention? Are you taking over more of their lives than necessary? If your mother is recovering from a stroke, for example, is she ready for a bit more independence? What about your kids? Are they ready to branch out on their own? Remember, encouraging independence should be your primary goal as a caretaker and a nurturer.
5. Express yourself. Just when you thought you’d have time for all those things you’d been putting off, a parent needs you. No wonder you may be feeling a mix of guilt, love, resentment and maybe even anger. What you’ll need: patience, understanding and a loving ear. To keep things in perspective, share your feelings with your spouse or a friend.
6. Take pride. Remember that giving of yourself is cause for pride.
7. Share the care. Probably the most important strategy of all, finding a friend or relative who can assist with caretaking, run errands or babysit can offer tremendous relief. And when others offer to pitch in, take them up on it. Ask them to choose from a list of tasks. Perhaps an adult day care can offer relief.
If depression and fatigue start setting in, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she may recommend a support group or refer you to a counselor.