You might have heard this label more often if you are stuck in between caring for your parents while trying to parent your kiddos. My babies are now 25 and 18, but there was a time when we were struggling to balance football games, band practice, and the maintenance of both ours and Mom's house on top of managing Mom's care. To say I was stuck in the middle of generations is putting it lightly.
In reality, I just felt stuck. I had so much to manage that everything and everyone was compartmentalized into an emotionally detached, well-managed schedule. What I never seemed to have time for was my own sanity. Sneaking off during a lunch break to have my nails done seemed to be a bit of shameful self-care in the early years, but now I can see how I talked the ears off of my nail tech, simply wanting to feel normal, special, and anything other than a caregiver.
As a caregiver, I was checking off my To-Do list so I did not really consider myself a caregiver in my early years. Aside from never having time for my needs, I was misled by the labels in society that kept me from recognizing what my life had become. Partially feeling stuck on a Farris wheel and somewhat regretting ever saying as a teenager, "I can't wait to move out and become an adult." It's never what we expect it to be, especially not stepping into the world of Dementia.
Unbeknownst to the caregiver, society calls most caregivers Spouse, Parents, Relatives, Neighbors, and even friends. Those labels make the relationships feel somewhat obligatory, so your feelings get lost in the mix of To-Do lists. The choice becomes an issue and even stress when past relationships are strained for various reasons. So now, caring for your loved one may come from places other than compassion or concern. When you look at the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) list, which Sidney Katz first coined in 1950 according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI Resources), you might realize you are a caregiver regardless of societal labels.
ADLs are how we now describe fundamental skills required to independently care for oneself, such as eating, personal hygiene, dressing, mobility, and maintaining continence. The level of independence is based on whether someone can perform these activities on their own or need help from a family caregiver. If you have little ones, you can imagine your daily routines are getting your ankle bitters or moody teenagers to eat, bathe, brush teeth, get dressed in weather-appropriate attire, and keep their britches dry. Many need some assistance with a mobility beyond a wheelchair or walker. Adding to your mix of loved ones with an adult parent or spouse places you smack down in the middle of family care needs.
It takes a village to raise a child and yet another to continue raising an adult parent. No matter your parent's age, caring for a parent is far more complicated than raising a child. One of the first things families tend to do is lean on their children to help out with caring for grandma or grandpa. Parents are stretched thin enough when you have a two-income household, so telling your child or even guilting your child into helping out needs a disclaimer. Childhood should be primarily playful and overzealously protected, with caregiving duties requested secondarily. Family obligations have grown beyond simple care if your care begins to jeopardize school work, events, or friendships.
Care requests must be kept to a consistent request and not on demand when "favors" pop up in highly stressed moments. Mommy's little helper is given an opportunity to learn compassion at an early age, but some may become accustomed to praise and only learn to perform based on reward systems put in place. The child's developmental level should be an indication of assigning appropriate tasks. Children between the ages of 7 and 12 are much more able than younger children but not as resistant as teens. While more capable and self-sufficient, teenagers may be touchy about losing time with friends and be more susceptible to depression.
Forced caregiving is where the differences between firstborn, middle child, and younger siblings create lifelong resentment, jealousy, and even hatred towards family members. Asking kids to help an older family member or even sibling with special needs is not as straightforward or emotion-free as assigning them a household chore. Grandparents or siblings should never be seen as a chore or become one.
If they are uncomfortable, allow them to say "No." Praise or reward them for the help they are willing and able to give without heavy guilt for not meeting your expectations. If you need more help than they can provide, it's a definite sign outside assistance is required. 'No' might mean "I'm scared." Use this moment as a teachable moment. Ask what is making them feel uncomfortable about the task. There might be an emotional issue involved that needs attention. Maybe there is a confidence issue involved that may need some guidance. Maybe there is astigmatism attached to illness and their understanding of death they struggle to grasp.
Caregiving is hard enough for us as adults. Thankfully, children get to see you care and witness compassion firsthand while spending time with family without experiencing the burden you or I might encounter. Being sandwiched does not help matters, but even if their grandparent is fading or their sibling's demanding needs often take precedents, kids need to be able to see the family as supportive to their needs, resilient, and what a typical family enduring this caregiving life feels like.
Little helpers might help to make you feel less alone while also bringing a smile to your loved one. From hugs to companionship, playing board games, or watching tv together, there is something age-appropriate for our kiddos to help with. Nonetheless, one of the unique forms of mercy for the Sandwiched Gen is we are young and healthy with more energy to balance raising a family and helping our loved ones live out their days safely with as much dignity as possible.
The last thing we want is to have our kids resent our loved ones or us. Certainly do not want them to feel the guilt of leaving home to live out their dreams out of fear of leaving you alone or abandoning their post at home as your backup caregiver.
We walk a fine line as part of the Sandwiched Generation. Keep in mind we are raising our future caregivers.
If you feel stuck in your status as a sandwiched caregiver, then please consider the following:
1. Be careful not to push tasks on your children when your energy wanes. This moment is our check engine light to bring in outside help as soon as possible.
2. Even if your children grew up with grandparents, working or playing with them, there is still a difference between having fun and taking on healthcare responsibilities.
3. Use age and maturity as a guide for caregiving duties.
4. No matter how thinly stretched you feel, it would be best if you did not forget how valuable your time spent with your children is for both of you. Avoid making promises that you become too tired to fulfill.
5. Never have your children administer medication to your loved ones at any age, no matter how cute or helpful it seems for them to fulfill. Administering medication should remain an adult task.
6. Praise them for their help and know when to employ carrots (incentives), not sticks (demands).
7. Never use care tasks as punishments for bad behavior, poor grades, or earning privileges.
8. Compassion is a learned skill that takes time. Whatever you can mentally, emotionally, or physically muscle through because you feel you have to is a burden you carry. Don't make it their burden too.
9. Make sure your kiddos understand that taking time for yourself is a form of self-care and not selfishness. The balancing act in the Sandwich Generation requires self-care!
Thank you for joining in and listening today. I hope this episode gave you more food for thought. Until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care everybody.