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Elder Law and Estate Planning Blog - Lancaster, PA

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Sandwich Generation: Caring for your parents and your teens

Being the caregiver of an elderly parent can be a tiresome job by itself.  If you have kids to worry about, it becomes that much more difficult.  While worrying about getting your mother to her doctor appointments, giving her her medications on schedule, making sure her kitchen is stocked if she's still living at home, etc, you have to make dinner for your kids, drive them to soccer practice, and make sure they get their homework done.  In a 1990 article, Newsweek reported that the average American woman will spend 17 years raising her kids and 18 years helping her aging parents or in-laws.

Family caregivers worry about spreading themselves too thin and their own ability to cope with all the responsibilities that face them.  So how can a family caregiver handle caring for their parents and their kids?  Here are some tips that might help you feel a little less sandwiched:

  • Hold a family meeting.  Family meetings are a time to discuss conflicts and propose solutions together.  They allow everyone to contribute their thoughts and may encourage feelings to be shared that would otherwise go unspoken.  If family meetings seem to go nowhere, bring in a friend or other family member to moderate.
  • Educate teens about their grandparent's condition.  Talking to them honestly about their grandparent's situation, both abilities and disabilities, can help kids, especially teens, better cope.  Illness can be scary, and some, like Alzheimer's, can impact them as well.  Kids will be better able to cope if they understand the nature of the illness and how it should progress.
  • Ensure that family members have their privacy.  This is especially important for teenagers, so if your mom or dad moves in with you, give them their own space.  Ideally they should have their own room as well as a TV, phone or computer.  And make sure that your parent knows that the kids need their space and alone-time as well.
  • Expect your kids' help, but be realistic about what they can do.  Kids should understand that they are a part of the family and will be depended on to help.  Prepare a list of all the things you do on a daily and weekly basis, then ask them which of those things they can do for you.  And most importantly, hold them to it!
  • Don't ignore the quiet ones.  Some kids are louder than others, but that doesn't mean that the quiet ones aren't struggling.  They may just not want to further stress you out with complaints or don't know how to express their feelings.  Regularly ask your kids how they are feeling and acknowledge that this is a difficult situation for everyone.
  • Focus on your marriage.  Set aside time each week for your spouse to do something you both enjoy.  Also, talk about the situation and don't let your marriage suffer because of it.  Your spouse can provide the comfort you need, and you want to nurture that relationship.
  • Prepare a long-range financial plan.  Do you have kids heading to college soon?  How are you going to fund your parent's long-term care?  These are questions that you should be asking yourself to better prepare for the future.  A professional financial planner can help you figure out your parents' assets and how to use them to finance their care.
  • Look for the blessings.  It may seem stressful to care for an elderly parent, but it can be very rewarding, too.  Many caregivers report great satisfaction due to the closeness they achieve with their parent.  This can also be a great experience for kids as they learn to sacrifice their own needs for the family.

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