Raising your kids, working, trying to take care of yourself, and now caring for an aging parent? That makes you part of the “sandwich generation.” You are not alone—almost half of America’s 40- and 50-year-olds are in the same boat. Most of us have adjusted to balancing children, work and finding some time for ourselves. But when we add caring for an aging parent, it often becomes too much. And usually it’s the “me” part that is sacrificed…until you hit burn out.
Here are some ways to leverage your time and resources so you can also take care of yourself.
Enlist Your Kids
Even the smallest child can spend charming one-on-one time with a grandparent. If your parent lives with or near you, they can spend time together in person. If your parent is not near you, they can Skype on the computer, use FaceTime or play multi-player online games. Your children, no matter what their ages, will benefit from spending time with Grandma or Grandpa. They will see how you value and care for aging family members—and you will get some extra time to return phone calls, make dinner, or even catch a quick nap!
Ask About Options at Work
Check with your employer’s human resources department about resources that might be available to you. Depending on how long you expect to be caring for your parent, there may be a multitude of options available to you, including elder care research and referral services, flex time, and working from home options. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for eligible employees to receive 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave. (Private employers with less than 50 employees are exempt.) California law provides for paid family leave, if you are eligible.
Seek Legal and Other Help
There are legal and community resources that can help you make the best care and financial decisions for your parent. Elder law attorneys can prepare the necessary legal documents and help you maximize your parent’s income, long-term care insurance and retirement savings, and help your parent qualify for VA or Medi-Cal benefits, if applicable. Elder law attorneys are also familiar with various living communities in the area and in-home care agencies and other resources that may be helpful. You can also hire someone to review and verify/dispute insurance claims and medical billing.
Find Your “Me” Time
Stress is your biggest enemy and you have to find ways to reduce it. Joining a caregiver group, in person or online, will let you share your questions and frustrations, and learn how other caregivers are coping. Don’t be afraid to ask favors of friends and other relatives, such as picking up your kids while you go to the doctor with your parent. You could also learn to order in dinner every now and then without feeling guilty. Learn what you need to maintain your stamina, energy and positive outlook. That may include regular exercise (a yoga class, walk or run), a weekly outing with friends, or time to read or simply watch TV.