How to take the stress out of the sandwich generation


How to manage the sandwich generation in your home

three generations of family at dinner table-grandparents and their kids and grandkids
It's no secret, today's family caregivers are feeling the squeeze while caring for family and parents.

A survey of 40 moms, between ages 35 and 54, who care for their family and aging parents, report extreme stress levels, according to an American Psychology Association survey. These family caregivers are stuck in the “sandwich generation,” caring for themselves, their kids and their parents, all at once. Stress of this level can take its toll on relationships with everyone living under the same roof, including themselves.

"If you’re a mom or a family member stuck in the sandwich generation, it’s vital to realize the importance of not letting stress destroy your family."

“It’s not surprising that so many people in that age group are experiencing stress,” says psychologist Katherine Nordal, Ph.D., executive director for professional practice, American Psychological Association. “The worry of your parents’ health, and your children’s well-being, as well as the financial concern of putting kids through college and saving for your retirement, is a lot to handle.”

If you’re a mom or a family member stuck in the sandwich generation, it’s vital to realize the importance of not letting stress destroy your family; it’s time to learn how to manage stress positively. Often, the way the mother manages stress is used as a model by the rest of the family; modeling healthy stress management is the answer for you and your family to survive the squeeze of the sandwich generation.

Strategies to help manage your stress

Put yourself first
Remember the last time you flew in a plane and the flight attendant demonstrated the oxygen mask? They said, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.” The same goes for you as you juggle caring for two generations. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, who will?

The best rule to live by while in the sandwich? Take time for yourself. Even if it’s just a walk, a swim or a bike ride, do something for yourself that you enjoy. Eat well and drink plenty of water.

You are just one person; it’s OK to feel guilty 
You can’t handle all the changes and challenges that come with caring for two generations by yourself. Accept that you can’t always manage everything and allow yourself time to feel guilty if necessary; most women in this situation do feel guilty about not being able to do everything for everyone. (Remember, this is normal, and so are you!)

Communicate with your family                          
When you have your entire family on the same page, you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel and your family will, too. Others may surprise you by how willing they are to help.

The first step is managing everyone’s expectations by telling your children that you might not be able to attend all their after school games or explaining to your parents that your kids’ needs come first. You can assign new chores to kids and spouse, so they can help you with the day-to-day management of the household.

"The most important communication you can have is to hold a weekly family meeting."

The most important communication you can have is to hold a weekly family meeting where members have the opportunity to voice concerns, suggestions and emotions. By talking openly about the situation rather than hiding from it, your family is more likely to adapt better and help more.

Ask for help from family or others
If you have other siblings or family nearby, it’s a terrific idea to reach out to them for support. Ask them to cover for you every week, or whatever will be of the most significant help to you. You’d be surprised at how many friends are willing to lend a hand occasionally, too.  

Respite care to the rescue
One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone stuck in the middle of the sandwich generation is to hire an in-home caregiver to help out when needed. A day off will help minimize stress and it can allow you to be the daughter again! A day or two a week who can not only care for kids and parents, they can help with meal preparation, light housekeeping, laundry and errands. Having help at home is a proven stress reliever that will make a big difference to your wellbeing.

Take care of yourself while caring for your family. They need you.

Helen Bach
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