The “Sandwich Generation” refers to the more than 9 million Americans, typically in their 30s and 40s, who are squished in the middle – the meat or the cheese – as the primary caregiver for their children and an older adult, often a parent – the bread. As anyone who is tuna salad between two slices of whole wheat will tell you, they are endlessly being pulled in multiple directions trying to make sure that everyone is safe, healthy, and, at least most of the time, happy.
Instead of thinking of caring for the children and the older adult in your life as two separate roles – parent and caregiver – here’s a little secret. The thing is, although distinctly different situations, some of the same techniques used with kids can do double duty to help the older adult reach a happy place. Use those parenting skills to manage the whole household and feel like a hero sandwich!
Give everyone a job. Setting the table for dinner, emptying the dishwasher, watering the plants, folding the laundry – the list goes on. Assigning everyone a job helps them feel included and needed, and takes one thing off the to-do list. Kids are learning responsibility and older adults are being given a sense of purpose, which can be lacking as they become less able to care for themselves. The jobs don’t have to be big; the goal is just to make sure that no one is just sitting around while everyone else is busy.
Plan (appropriate) activities. “Mom, I’m bored.” “Dad, play with me.” Those are common refrains with kids around. There’s a chance the older adult in your life has similar feelings, but simply isn’t as vocal about them. Planning activities that engage the body and the mind are a great way to beat boredom. Just remember to consider everyone’s physical and cognitive abilities when planning activities. A day-long nature hike probably isn’t appropriate for a 2-year old or someone who uses a walker, but an afternoon of singing and dancing in the living room could be perfect for both a 4-year-old and someone in the middle stages of dementia. It’s nice to plan activities everyone can do together, but just as nice for everyone to have constructive alone time, too.
Make a schedule. At work you keep a calendar and a to-do list, at school your kids have designated times for reading and math. Knowing what to expect, and when, helps us feel secure and in control. The older adult may be missing the structure that a schedule provides. When sitting down to think about the coming week – when is the kids’ soccer game, who is driving carpool this week – be sure to include your older adult – what time will we have lunch each day, which day is the home-health aid coming.
And most importantly, while you probably already plan for a babysitter for the kids from time to time, it’s also perfectly acceptable to plan for a caregiver to stay with your older adult occasionally. Taking time for yourself, to do the things that you enjoy, makes you a better parent to your kids and a better caregiver to the older adult in your life!
Need help with your caregiving role? AGE of Central Texas is here to help with FREE programs, resources, and education opportunities; call (512) 451-4611 or visit www.AGEofCentralTX.org for more information.
Julia Davies, MPH, has an extensive background in both child and geriatric programs, and serves as the CaregiverU Program Associate at AGE of Central Texas.