Are you raising your own kids while also acting as a caregiver for an aging parent? If so, you’re what’s known as a “sandwich generation” caregiver, sandwiched between caregiving responsibilities for two different generations. And research suggests that no matter how you slice it, being a sandwich generation caregiver is tough.
For example, around 22% of sandwich generation caregivers surveyed reported spending an average of 22 hours a week caring for someone, often while also juggling work responsibilities, according to Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Sandwich Generation Caregiving in the U.S., a report issued by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and Caring Across Generations. You don’t have to let sandwich caregiver responsibilities wear you completely down, though.
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Below are five of the most common sandwich generation stressors and how to cope.
1. Feeling financial strain
About 1 in 5 sandwich caregivers report feeling financial strain, according to the NAC report. That’s not surprising, since many adult children must help their parents financially with home health care or the cost of assisted living or a nursing home, often while still paying for their kids’ tuition, clothing, school events and other expenses. Your income could also be reduced if you miss work due to caregiving duties.
As a primary caregiver for an aging parent who lives with you, you may be eligible for a dependent care credit when you file federal income taxes. If you don’t already have a written or online budget in place, create one to better track spending and anticipate caregiving expenses.
2. Neglecting retirement savings
Many sandwich generation caregivers are in the sweet spot for retirement savings potential, earning a higher income than ever and enjoying career success. Often, however, sandwich caregivers must cut back on hours or even leave a job due to caregiving for an aging parent. Less income can seriously impact – or even put an end to – contributions to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan.
Even if your income is reduced, try to keep making regular contributions to your retirement plan. You’ll be glad you kept up the contributions and will appreciate the extra retirement income when it’s your time to retire.
3. Juggling workplace pressures
Your boss may have been compassionate initially when you took off early due to an emergency health crisis with your mom or dad, but even the most understanding employers have their limits. After all, they hired you to help run their business, not to run your parents to the doctor in the morning and your kids to soccer practice in the afternoon.
To ease workplace pressures, present your employer with a solution, such as working remotely at least part of the time. Maybe you could get approval for more flexible hours – arriving earlier so you can leave earlier or taking a weekday off but working on Saturday, for example, so you can take care of caregiving duties while still getting the job done.
If caregiving responsibilities for a parent are especially demanding, you may also be eligible for unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks through the Family and Medical Leave Act.
4. Finding no escape from caregiving
Sandwich generation caregivers, ranging in age from mid-forties to early fifties, must chauffeur teenage or pre-teen children to school and sporting events while helping their kids navigate toward adulthood. Meanwhile, they’re watching their own aging parents decline and devoting countless hours to take care of them.
It’s easy to get run down from taking care of everybody else every day. That’s why it’s important to take respite time for yourself. Maybe your son could sit with Mom while you do an activity you enjoy or take a walk in nature. Contact local organizations that help seniors to ask about volunteers who can be with a parent who can’t be left alone so you can get away for a few hours occasionally.
5. Ignoring your own physical health
Roughly 20% of sandwich caregivers with kids still living at home reported that caregiving for both a parent and their children has “made their health worse,” according to the NAC report. Another 18% said that caregiving resulted in physical strain to their bodies.
It’s easy to ignore your own health when your chief concern is the health and wellbeing of people you love. However, you won’t be much good to anyone if you’re run down, irritable, in pain or ill. To take care of your own health, make sure you take time to stay on top of annual check-ups and exams, get regular physical exercise and maintain a healthy diet.
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