The Sandwich Generation: 6 Ways to Take Care of Caregivers
One of the difficult aspects of being in the Sandwich Generation, is finding ourselves being pulled to care for both aging parents and adult children who parent our grandchildren. This becomes doubly difficult when a family member in either generation requires almost constant care. Someone in the family usually steps up to become the primary caregiver, leaving the rest of us to care for them. In our family, my elderly mother finds herself alone for the first time in sixty years. My sister has stepped in to be Mom’s caregiver, because she lives in close proximity to Mom, and was fortunate enough to be able to retire early. In my children’s generation, our daughter has become fully disabled with Multiple Sclerosis, and her husband must play the roles of parent, caregiver and homemaker – all the time. For him, it’s sort of like being stuck in new-parent mode permanently. What can I do as a daughter, a sibling, and a mother who lives out of town to support these family needs? Here are some of the ways I have attempted to offer my support.
- Giving the gift of time
I am a teacher, which means I have holidays, spring break, and summer to devote some quality time to my loved ones. I have also been able a few times to take off a week from work and stay in the households of my Mom and daughter when surgeries required extended rehabilitation and recovery. This has allowed their caregivers to have a break from the everyday, and do some catching up in their own lives. I live in close enough proximity to both homes to be able to make frequent weekend trips, allowing for my sister and son-in-law to get a break in their routine. I have, on occasion, brought my daughter and grandchildren to our house for a quick weekend, to give my son-in-law some rare alone time. However, I make sure to also set aside equal time for my son’s family, so they get some Grandma time, too! It’s important to keep your life balanced, so you don’t get pulled into the crazy cycle of feeling guilty, and trying to fix everything when you are there.
2. Giving the gift of food
When I come to my daughter’s house, I supply all meals – whether we eat out, carry in, or I cook for them. It all depends on my energy level for the weekend. My son-in-law detests cooking and grocery shopping, so this is a welcome change of pace. I have also spent a Saturday prepping and freezing some of their favorite meals for the coming month. I leave them with instructions for prepping and serving all the home-cooked meals in their freezer. My Mom still likes to cook for family, so when I come to her house, I run to the grocery, help her prep specific foods for a meal, set the table, and do a couple of takeout meals, or treat her to a restaurant dinner.
I have also, on occasion, called on local restaurants to deliver meals to both of my children’s homes – particularly when one parent is ill or out of town, and the other is carrying the burden alone. Pizza Hut will deliver their holiday triple box of two pizzas, bread and cookie to your door, and Dominos has Pasta Alfredo for delivery; I like to add spinach, tomatoes, black olives, and chicken, and order it with a side of their parmesan bites. If I’m in town, I often pick up the Bob Evans family meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rolls, cranberry sauce, with an extra large side of carrots or green beans; it makes a special carry-in meal.
3. Giving the gift of tangibles
Look for small and simple ways to ease the plight of your loved ones. Do the kids need socks, or fresh sheets put on the bed? Does Grandma need to have her computer updated, fresh paper put in the printer, and recent emails printed out? Could you help her go through files, and purge and organize? Does your son-in-law need jeans without holes? It’s not that you are looking for the things that aren’t getting done – it’s that you are looking for quiet ways to uplift their quality of life. Life was meant to be lived in pairs. When one of those life partners is missing or disabled, there are going to be lots of little things that go by the wayside as family members lapse into survival mode, and caregivers do their best to keep things going.
4.Giving the gift of listening
Sometimes the best gift you can give to the caregiver is just to listen. Sometimes they want advice about specific issues, and sometimes they just want a sounding board for processing their feelings as “new normals” come along. My sister is highly connected to friends and family and her social network is alive and well. I try to text, email, or call her at least once a week, while I talk to my mother almost daily. My son-in-law, on the other hand, leads a very isolated lifestyle, with few friends and family members to call upon for assistance. I often find when I am there that we sit up talking until the wee hours of the morning about anything and everything.
5.Giving the gift of respect
It’s important to ask what you can do to help, and not just assume you know what needs to be done. You are coming into a well-oiled machine. It may look like chaos to you, but there is order. You are not there every day, and do not know all of the systems and procedures put in place by the family members and caregiver. While coming in and taking charge seems to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of things while I am here,” it may come across to the caregiver as “Dear God, I don’t know how you make any sense of this mess. Don’t worry. I’ll fix everything.” Be respectful of walking into someone else’s household. You are an invited guest, even if you grew up with these kinfolk. Ask what they would like help with while you are there. Sometimes it won’t be what you thought needed doing at all.
6. Giving the gift of gratitude
Take the time to tell care givers how much you appreciate their sacrifice. Tell them what a great job they are doing in caring for your loved ones. Take the time to thank all of the people who build into your loved ones’ lives. Tell God how much you appreciate all of the creative ways He sends people to help. I am amazed time and again, how many different people have answered God’s call to minister to my mom, my sister, and my daughter’s family! I am constantly reminded that God does not need me to accomplish anything in life. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and He can take care of my family without me. I am just grateful that He allows me to continue to be a part of things!