Find out how to care for your elderly parents and children while maintaining your sanity
By Jody Gastfriend
Yes, you love them. You love them with all your heart. But sometimes, you'd just like an hour to yourself without being a caregiver: A few moments without someone calling your name, wanting a glass of water, asking if a special outfit is clean or needing help with a project. And who can blame you? It's only natural to want to be able to read a book or watch a movie without having to listen to a sing-song voice beginning the same story for a fifth time.
Take a deep breath and give yourself a break. It is tempting to feel guilty. Chances are, you were better able to manage when the demands came only from your children. Now that you're a caregiver for your offspring as well as your aging parents, the stress and drain on your family's income — and your patience — have doubled. Without help, it's easy to start feeling a bundle of negative emotions: frustration, anger, exhaustion, and yes, guilt. Unfortunately, this can quickly start to overpower the many positive aspects of caregiving, resulting in feelings of resentment and hopelessness.
Eighty percent of eldercare in the United States is provided by unpaid family caregivers. More than a third of those caregivers are simultaneously raising minor children. Popularly called the sandwich generation, these sons and daughters (and mothers and fathers) want nothing but the best for their family members. Unfortunately, the best often means giving up the illusion that you can do it all.
For a long-term strategy, reach out to professionals who understand the landscape of eldercare. Geriatric care managers, typically social workers or nurses, can help you plan ahead and connect you to community resources. You may want to consult an elder law attorney and a financial planner to prepare you and your parents for potential care needs. The more education you do in advance, the better prepared you'll be when changes occur. In the short-term, here are some steps to keep things in balance:
Talk it out. What do the people involved really need? What are they willing to sacrifice? Maybe it's time for the kids to sign up for an afterschool program. Perhaps parenting or housekeeping duties can be more evenly shared. Are there other adult siblings who can pitch in to help with elderly parents? Be specific about the help you need. What activities can be abandoned in favor of a more relaxed schedule? What close friends or neighbors can step in for you in a pinch?
Bring your parents into the discussion. While you might be frustrated that Mom is reluctant to accept any help and Dad still insists on cleaning out the gutters, it is important to address your concerns about their safety while taking into account their need for independence. They may need assistance, but they are still your parents, and they are adults. If Mom or Dad can't be left alone, don't assume that they would never allow "strangers," aka home health aides or housekeepers, into their house. Their desire to remain in their own home might be greater than the desire to avoid outside help. Or, maybe an assisted livingcommunity withfew maintenance worries could be appealing. If they'll allow it, consider accompanying them to medical appointments. Help your parents look at their options as realistically as possible. If they are weary about accepting help, enlist support from their trusted inner circle or eldercare experts.
Explore outside options. Make a list of organizations and people who can provide services that might be helpful on a regular or occasional basis, such as babysitters, senior companions, housekeepers, car services, disabled-accessible buses, meal and shopping delivery services, pet sitters and home health aides. Call local agencies on aging, public utilities and libraries, or public transportation departments to see what they might have to offer. Some churches and synagogues are active in childcare and eldercare, and many companies offer helpful benefits for employees.
Break out the calculator. Chances are you've scoped out the costs associated with having children, but the costs of late-life care may come as a shock. Many people assume Medicare will pay for long-term care, but it will not. Do your parents have long-term care insurance? Do they have money stowed away to pay for a nursing home if needed? (The average cost in the United States is more than $80,000 annually). Are they eligible for Medicaid? If not, could they "spend down" assets to qualify? What is the value of their house? Before you can identify options for long-term care, you first need to know how you are going to pay for it. Don't be afraid to have honest conversations about finances with your parents. This will determine many of their care options.
Create time for you. What do you require in your daily routine to remain grounded? How can you create space for yourself amidst all of your responsibilities? It is natural to put yourself on the back burner in order to get it all done, but over time you may see this negatively impact all areas of your life, including physical and mental health and relationships. This is why it is important to not feel guilty when you make time for yourself. It will help you to continue to serve others in your life.
Finally, remember that this time of your life will not last forever and you want to be able enjoy the time you have together. That's why planning ahead and getting help can make a big difference. Do the best you can, but be kind to yourself. Your parents and children are lucky to have you.
Jody Gastfriend, VP of Senior Care Services at Care.com, is a licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years of experience in the field of eldercare. Care.com is the largest online care destination in the world with 9.5 million members spanning 16 countries.