Yipee! Our two boys were becoming more independent, so my husband and I could now reconnect and perhaps have a bit of time for ourselves!
But that was not to be. One after another our aging parents’ health deteriorated. They’d been there for us and for our children. Now we needed to be there for them and we were the only family living in the same town.
We were caught in the middle. My husband and I needed to provide emotional and physical support to our parents… arranging for and accompanying them to appointments, calling them regularly, responding to crises and hospitalizations, managing bills, taxes, providing emotional and physical support, and spending a large amount of time with them. We also needed to be there emotionally and physically for our kids. They still needed healthy meals, support with school, rides to volleyball and soccer, rides to music lessons and just time to talk and be listened to.
It wasn’t long before both of us were burnt out. How could we continue working, providing care, being there for our sons and still have time for ourselves? Well, as you can guess the stress and anxiety were building up.
What is the “Sandwich Generation”?
It turns out we are part of a growing number of middle-aged adults who are part of “The Sandwich Generation” – a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. According to Statistics Canada, the sandwich generation now includes more than two million Canadians. In Canada, 20% of professionals are working and taking care of both their kids as well as an older family member. More boomers and Generation Xers are delaying parenthood while at the same time their parents are living longer. The demands are resulting in increased stress, anxiety, work absenteeism, sleep deprivation, and decreased involvement in social activities.
So my husband and I sat down and talked about how to cope with the situation. We found that these 7 strategies really helped:
1. Take care of you
You may say “there isn’t time for that”! If you feel well mentally and physically, you’ll have more energy to care for your loved ones. So take the time, even if it’s thirty minutes to do some form of exercise that you enjoy such as a walk or a bike ride. Make this time for yourself non-negotiable! Eat right, get enough sleep and keep in contact with your friends and family. Also, pace yourself, sometimes pamper yourself, or you won’t be able to keep going – not because you’re weak but because you’re human!
It’s a good time to have conversations about the “What ifs…” with your aging parents, and also with your immediate family. Your children may notice the changes in their grandparents’ health. Ask the kids if they have questions and talk about what’s happening in a way that they can understand (during this conversation, cell phones are not allowed!).
3. Take time to just breathe!
Take two minutes in a quiet space (it may have to be the bathroom!) and just take deep breaths. This will calm down your nervous system and tell your body to relax. This will help prevent you from losing it with your kids!
4. Give away some of the low priority duties
Someone can be hired to clean your parent’s place/your place, consider a grocery delivery service for your parents/yourself, and delegate some responsibilities to the kids and other family members, such as housework or making part of a meal. Learn to ask for and accept help. Every task that is removed from your plate will give you a few more minutes of YOU time! Delay or say no to less important tasks and activities.
5. Make time for each other
Don’t forget to reconnect with your partner. Make a date night at least every couple of weeks – also non-negotiable! Remind each other why you fell in love. And don’t forget to make some time for you and your kids – maybe a family movie night or games night. It will help keep you connected as a family and to laugh and enjoy the lighter side of life.
6. Write it down
Have a calendar, whether electronic or on the wall, and input dates for everyone’s doctors appointments, school activities, extracurricular activities, etc. The big picture on a calendar may help you feel more organized and see where you have time to take a break to recharge your batteries. It may also make it clear as to when you need to ask for help.
7. Ask for professional support
Talk things out with friends or family. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress, talk with your doctor or a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your worries and better manage stress. You can also dial 311 in Halton Region to speak with a public health nurse who can provide you with support and resources.
Remember our loved-ones won’t be around forever. The daily challenges can be seen as a reminder of how blessed we are to have our parents and children in our lives. Amidst the chaos, these tips have helped to keep me sane! I hope they will help you too! Do you have any tips to add? Share them with us:
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For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.
Tamara Kraszewski, RN
Public Health Nurse with Halton Region Health Department