According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s are living in the “sandwich,” not only working full-time and caring for their minor children but also caring for elderly parents. I am part of this so-called sandwich generation, which carries the responsibility of child care and education, planning for retirement, and caring for parents.
Parenting Your Parents: Cut Yourself Some Slack
I use the word “responsibility” deliberately because I do not think of it as a burden. I love my family and am happy to take care of all its members (including our two dogs). But it is challenging. Very challenging. Here are five ways I’ve found to help effectively manage the caregiver role.
1. Ask for help. You might like to think you can do it all yourself, but here’s the truth: You cannot. In your law practice, you likely delegate tasks to other attorneys or staff and even outsource tasks. Take your own advice and apply it to your caregiver role. Asking for help doesn’t show weakness; it shows intelligence and responsibility.
Find sources of help for your parents at the local senior center, veterans association or visiting nurse association. Try websites like Care.com and APlaceForMom.com, which are full of information and resources.
2. Find the right lawyer. Unless you are an experienced elder law attorney, you will likely need another attorney to help you and your parents through the maze of Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and the like. The right lawyer will be attuned to the needs of the senior population and provide information on a variety of resources. An experienced attorney can guide your family through estate planning that may assist you in qualifying for various benefits, thereby easing some of the financial burden imposed on the sandwich generation.
3. Plan as far in advance as possible. If your parents are still healthy, now is the time to discuss their desires for the future. While it is easy to put off uncomfortable conversations, especially if mom or dad is not thrilled with the idea of needing help, it only makes things more difficult in the future. I am lucky — my parents, who are still mentally healthy, have created a trust for which I am the trustee, and through which all their finances are handled. Their wills are in order, their house is paid in full, their power of attorney documents are valid, their living wills are executed, and their funeral arrangements are made. While it took some time to “get their affairs in order,” I am grateful that we were able to do it together now, while the caregiver stressors are lower than they ever will be again. If your parents will let you, start planning now.
4. Keep the lines of communication open. As with any relationship, open communication is key. This is especially important when parents are reluctant to accept help, or are located far away. Either situation lends itself well to hiring someone else to handle day-to-day caregiver tasks. Perhaps having someone come in to clean or cook once a week (someone who is also happy to sit and chat for a while) will be perceived as less intrusive, but will provide sufficient assistance. Talk with your parents about what they want for the future, what they like about the help they are receiving, anger or sadness related to their loss of independence, and any caregivers that come in to help them. Also communicate regularly with those caregivers.
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Scientific literature confirms that the burden of caregiving is significant, even if we don’t think of it as a “burden.” Up to 50 percent of sandwich generation caregivers report anxiety, depression and other symptoms of emotional stress. And caregivers who neglect their own needs have an increased risk of developing serious conditions like elevated blood pressure and insulin levels, a weakened immune system and cardiovascular complications. So cut yourself some slack. Do the best you can. And remember to be a caregiver to yourself, too.