With children back in school and older adults in your family needing extra care, juggling the two can become overwhelming for family caregivers.
There are approximately 43 million caregivers that have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last twelve months, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Furthermore, 28 percent of these caregivers represent the sandwich generation, which includes middle-age adults who are raising their own families while also caring for their aging parents or other family members. These responsibilities can include managing careers, coordinating childcare, upholding household duties and care tasks for aging parents. Although this is common throughout the United States, sandwich generation caregivers can struggle with managing these responsibilities, both emotionally and financially. In fact, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, roughly one third of sandwich generation caregivers report a high level of emotional stress, and a fifth report financial stress and physical strain. While all caregivers experience their share of difficulties and challenges, sandwich generation caregivers have their own set of unique challenges as they simultaneously navigate the nuances of caring for themselves, their own families and their aging parents.
Common Challenges for the Sandwich Generation
Many sandwich generation caregivers have their own full lives furthering their careers, raising their children and nurturing other important relationships. On top of it all, these caregivers are often the primary support person for their aging parent or other family member. Balancing all of these tasks while also caring for themselves can present certain emotional, physical and financial challenges. Here are a few of the most common challenges amongst sandwich generation caregivers:
Emotional Stress. For many adult children, experiencing the role reversal that happens when an adult child begins to care for their aging parent can prompt a lot of different emotions. Oftentimes caregivers experience anticipatory grief as they wait for the passing of their loved ones. It’s also common to feel a loss of independence as most of your time is spent caring for other people, whether that be your children or your parent. Without the time to process emotions, caregivers can also experience empathy and compassion fatigue which often leads to caregiver burnout.
Financial Burden. Raising a family is expensive and the added costs of supporting an aging loved one can cause undue financial stress on a caregiver, especially if your loved one has depleted their financial resources. On average, sandwich generation caregivers spend three hours per day providing unpaid care for their children in addition to their aging family member. These commitments can often cause them to miss out on career opportunities that would require a bigger time commitment, ultimately costing them the opportunity for financial gain. In addition, this loss can become magnified if a loved one needs help paying for medical expenses or additional at-home health care. Over time these costs can produce a heavy financial burden for caregivers and lead to negative health outcomes such as anxiety and depression.
Family conflict. Providing care for an aging parent can involve a lot of different personalities and opinions from involved family members. It’s common to have disagreements about your loved one’s finances, medical decisions, and next steps.
Tips to Alleviate Caregiver Challenges
While it’s not easy to navigate all of the emotions that come with caring for a family and an aging loved one, there are ways to work through the challenges and make caregiving feel more manageable. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Plan for the future. It’s easy to ignore your own needs when you’re consumed by supporting others. However, it’s important to start saving and planning for your own retirement. If you don’t plan appropriately, you could be putting your children in a similar position in the future.
- Prioritize your savings. Sandwich generation caregivers have the responsibility to provide emotional and financial support to their children and their own aging parents. This means unexpected costs may arise when you least expect it. If possible, try to start putting money aside for emergencies so you’re prepared when the time comes. Financial advisors are also a great resource for planning for the future and can help guide you as you work to build your savings.
- Focus on self- care. You cannot care for others when you completely neglect your own needs. Finding time for your hobbies, exercise and even keeping up with your medical appointments is crucial to your overall well-being. Caregivers who make time to care for themselves physically and emotionally ultimately provide better care to their loved ones and reduce the risk of caregiver burnout, anxiety, depression and other illnesses.
- Build a network of support. Caregivers often feel like they need to do everything alone, but most of the time there are small tasks that can be delegated to other family members or hired helpers. You may consider asking a family member to help with grocery shopping, transport to medical appointments, or assistance with childcare. People are usually happy to help, you just have to ask for it! There are also caregiver support groups designed for adult children providing care to their aging parent. This is a great opportunity to learn tips for successful caregiving and provide an emotional outlet with likeminded people.
- Spend time with loved ones. It can be easy to forget why you committed to caregiving in the midst of stress and the regular challenges of life. Spending intentional time with your loved ones doing something you enjoy can remind you why it is you do what you do every day.
At Inspīr we offer support for caregivers in many different ways. We have online resources including our tip sheet Overcoming Guilt as A Caregiver, offer many helpful articles throughout our BLOG. Our team is always available to discuss the program options we provide.