Brenda has been a stay-at-home mother since she had her first child nearly 10 years ago. Since her mother’s death last year she has also taken on the role of caring for her 83-year-old father who has been diagnosed with dementia. Between managing the household while her husband works, helping the kids with homework, cooking meals for her family and father, as well as shuttling them to activities and her father to and from various doctor appointments, Brenda finds she’s spending little to no time taking care of herself. She no longer finds time to take part in her monthly book club and rarely makes it to the gym for even a short workout. While Brenda has always taken naturally to caring for and nurturing others, these days she feels like her only role is the one of “caregiver.” The lack of time for self-care is causing Brenda to notice a definite change in her mood and overall well-being.
Brenda’s situation is not uncommon, as many middle-aged Americans find themselves in what is often described as the “Sandwich Generation,” aptly named to express the feeling of being squeezed between two potentially exhausting caregiving situations―attending to elderly parents with health problems or age-related disabilities, and still raising their own children who are too young to care for themselves. With the responsibility of providing care for multiple individuals of varying ages weighing on their shoulders, caregivers understandably feel overwhelmed, over-stressed and under-appreciated.
When “Caregiver” Becomes Your Prominent Role
Both working and non-working caregivers are likely to experience stress associated with “sandwich” caregiving. Non-working caregivers may feel as though they have no time away from the responsibilities of caring for their children and an elderly parent. While working caregivers may feel forced to sacrifice in relation to their career in order to manage their caregiving duties. Overall, 70% of working caregivers have had to make some kind of job change to accommodate caregiving; ranging from a reduction in work hours to changing roles or leaving work completely (AARP Public Policy Institute, Valuing the Invaluable: 2011 Update The Economic Value of Family Caregiving in 2009). These changes leave some to feel that where they once were a “banker,” “administrative professional,” or “plumber,” they are now a “caregiver,” which can be a frustrating and difficult transition.
Finding Time to Be Yourself
Caring for an elderly loved one while raising children is often an unexpected yet unavoidable situation. But whether you have taken on the responsibilities as part of your own choosing, to respect the wishes of a loved one, or because there is no other help nearby, the importance of finding time for yourself remains the same. Yes, you are a caregiver, but your role should not define who you are. You should still feel able to identify with and develop your professional self, and pursue activities that encourage your personal creativity and relieve the stress that can build with caregiving responsibilities. There’s no doubt that finding time for yourself may seem impossible some days, but finding simple breaks that rejuvenate you may help revive your sense of self when you feel overwhelmed by an onslaught of needs from others.
You may find that keeping a sketchbook or your book-club’s latest novel with you allows a quick escape while you wait for your father’s doctor, or trading carpool days with your husband once per week allows some time for you to take a much needed walk or visit with friends that you haven’t been able to catch up with since your “sandwich caregiver” role began.
Finding Help to Take Break
It’s no secret to family caregivers that finding someone to take over your caregiving duties for a short period of time can be easier said than done. Fortunately, there are some options available to grant caregivers the freedom to have some time for respite. Common choices include hiring a home care agency to provide a professional caregiver in the home, enrolling seniors in an adult day program to provide a variety of activities and interactions away from home, or having seniors temporarily stay in an assisted living facility that accommodates short term stays.
The best choices for you and your care recipient will likely vary based on your specific situation and level of comfort with having a new caregiver in the home or being away from home.
Being a caregiver of both young children and an elderly family member can be an undeniable challenge. Finding ways to fulfill your caregiving responsibilities and maintain your sense of self takes time. If you need assistance in finding balance, or support, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are in similar situations and we’re here to help. For more information, view FCA’s article “Sandwiched In” and please leave a comment below about your trials or successes as a “sandwich caregiver.”