As a member of the sandwich generation, you have plenty of responsibilities on your shoulders. Raising your own family while caring for your aging parents can feel like you’re juggling with too many balls in the air, and you may not be sure how you’re going to pull it off. A few key tips and tricks, however, can make it easier to take care of everyone who is relying on you.

What Does It Mean to Be a Member of the Sandwich Generation?

The “sandwich generation” is the generation squarely between aging parents and raising their own families. Members of the sandwich generation may find themselves needing to figure out solutions that will allow for increased care for their elderly loved ones while still delivering children to school, cooking meals for their own kids, and juggling the other responsibilities of work and home. This is a unique position that adds an increased level of stress to many individuals.

The Strategies that Make It Easier

Being a member of the sandwich generation means learning how to handle a complex balancing act every day. It’s not impossible–and you’re not alone! Make sure you’re implementing these strategies to help make your life easier.

Build a support system. You need to know who you can rely on when the going gets tough. Who are you going to call when you’re stuck at a long doctor’s appointment with your mother and it’s time to meet the kids at the bus stop, or you need someone to sit at the hospital–or even at home–with your dad while you head off to a meeting at school? You need a support system filled with friends and family members who will be there to help when there’s more than you can handle alone. That support system should also include people that you can trust and talk to when you’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed.

Be realistic. As a member of the sandwich generation, you may find yourself struggling with feelings of guilt. You’re only one person–and you’re one person who has distinct obligations to both your parents and your own spouse and children. As you balance caring for all of your loved ones, ask these key questions.

  • “What am I actually able to handle?” You’re simply not capable of being in two places at once, and you know it! Make sure that your plan doesn’t include placing more on your own shoulders than you can realistically take on.
  • “What are my spouse and children actually able to handle?” Is your spouse struggling with the idea of moving your aging parents into your home? Will it mean displacing your children in a way that will cause more upset than they can be expected to handle? Take the time to consider what is realistic for all of you.
  • “Am I remembering self-care?” Self-care is a critical part of having enough of you to go around for all the people you love. If taking on the challenges of caring for your parents doesn’t leave room for self-care, you need a new strategy.
  • “What can I afford?” Make sure you take your finances and your parents’ finances into consideration. Can they afford to have a sitter stay with them in their home or yours when you need to be out? Can you and your siblings together afford a high-quality assisted living facility? Take a hard look at what finances are available to help give you a break and reduce the responsibility you need to handle.

Look for flexible employment options. If you have the option of setting aside work for a few years while your parents and children need you, that may be the best way to balance your schedule–but it’s not the only option. Seek out a flexible employer, try working from home, or find another way to work that will allow you to be on hand when you’re needed most.

Think ahead to hard choices and solutions. When you have both children and parents to care for, hard choices are inevitable. Take the time to think through some of them ahead of time. What will you do if both your child and your parent are ill at the same time? What if illness or injury strikes just as you’re headed out the door for an important milestone function at school? Take the time to think through how you will handle those solutions so that when they hit, you’ll already have a plan in place. Can you call in a sibling to help care for your parents? What about one of their friends? Can your spouse help you with this juggling act? By preparing ahead of time, you’ll have a better idea of what you really need to do when those situations strike.

Life as a member of the sandwich generation isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort. Over time, you’ll discover the best way for you to balance the needs of your loved ones and the responsibilities on your shoulders in a way that is effective and practical for everyone involved.

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