What do you do when faced with the impossible choice of choosing between caring for your children and caring for your parents? This dual role is a challenge for the “sandwich generation” (those who act as caregivers for their parents, while still caring for their children).
If you’re facing this situation you may worry how having your parent in your home will affect your child’s development, your family’s finances, and the time you have for your child. However, caring for your parent doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your child. The following strategies can help you balance your parenting and caregiving role, while also ensuring the impact on your children is positive.
1. Address Your Child’s Fears
Talk to your child about what their grandparent is going through. Many young children are afraid of those who look frail or wrinkled, especially if they also use equipment like a walker or oxygen tank. Explain to your child that how we look changes as we age. Show them pictures of their grandparent as a child, a young adult, and with pictures of you when you were a child. Also, explain the use of their grandparent’s supportive equipment and how important it is.
Other fears your child might have could be related specifically to their grandparent’s condition, like hearing loss or dementia. Be honest with your child, but don’t overwhelm them with details of the condition or what it will look like in the future. Instead, stick to the symptoms they currently see. For example, explain to your child that because their voice is high their grandparent will have a hard time hearing them. Or, explain that a grandparent with Alzheimer’s may forget who a grandchild is, but the disease has made them forget temporarily and they may remember again.
2. Fulfill Your Child’s Emotional Needs
It is crucial to set aside time where your partner, your sibling, a friend, or a professional can deal with your parent’s care so that you can spend uninterrupted time with your child. Instruct the caregiver to call you only in a dire emergency. This will prevent your child from feeling like they can’t have time with just you without their grandparent calling you away.
3. Simple Schedules are Best
Scheduling is an important consideration when caring for your parent and your children. How do you manage soccer practice and doctor’s appointments? Keeping your schedule as simple as possible is the key to preventing stress and burnout. To keep life simple, use only one calendar for both your childcare and eldercare tasks so that you can see and avoid scheduling conflicts with a simple glance.
4. Involve Your Children
It’s important to involve your children with the caregiving role so that they feel included and important. Ensure you give your children age-appropriate tasks to help care for their grandparent. Very young children may be best suited to fetch objects for their grandparent. Teens can take on more tasks, like helping their grandparent stand, brushing their hair, or cooking them a meal.
These tasks can foster a relationship between child and grandparent, and develop your child’s compassion and sense of responsibility. If you are not asking more of your child’s time than you would for their chores, and are not asking them to be more emotionally mature than they can be, you can be sure you’re not burdening them.
5. Ask for Help
Don’t be afraid to call in outside support. You may want a nanny for your children or a caretaker for your parent, or you can even combine the role. There are daycares which combine child and elder care, and can take on all your responsibilities when you’re at work or are taking care of yourself (don’t lose sight of the importance of self-care). These facilities simplify picking up and dropping off your parent and children, saving you time and energy.
If you’re having trouble finding solutions and strategies to balance your two caregiving roles, please reach out to us at Aging Life Network. Our team of professionals have experience with this very situation and can offer you the assistance and advice you need.