Balancing Caring for an Elder While Raising Children

Senior Citizen with child image

At some point in most people’s lives, you’ll have to care for a family member. Whether it’s becoming a parent and raising children or helping care for a family member who has a disease or disability, there are times where you may have to step up and be there for a loved one. But are you in a situation where you have a child who is 7 and a parent who is 70 and find yourself having to care for both?

People who fall into this category of having a living parent over the age of 65 and are raising a young child or supporting an adult child are nicknamed the “Sandwich Generation.” Being stuck in this position requires a delicate balance so you don’t become overwhelmed, allow your children or parents to not get the full attention they deserve, or forget to take care of yourself. Here are a few tips to take control of the “sandwich generation” role.

Plan Ahead

The first step before caring for both children and parents simultaneously is to do a lot of research and plan ahead. Whether you think you’ll have to deal with this situation or not, the earlier you begin thinking about it being a possibility the better. Sometimes life throws the unexpected swiftly into your lap when you least expect it and you’ll wish you considered the possibility sooner. Most of the major decisions will be centered around your parent as you likely already have your family schedule for you and your children set before taking on the care of a parent. There are many considerations when deciding how to take care of a parent:

  • Is your parent fit to live on their own or will they have to relocate to somewhere where they can receive care, whether by a professional or yourself? Look into home care options before deciding on moving your parent into an assisted living facility to see if that fits your family’s needs.
  • Why will they be needing care? Is it a physical disability, deteriorative brain disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, or are they just growing older and just need help with things they can’t handle on their own? Each case is going to be different and require different areas of focus, so it’s important to figure out these details early on.
  • If they aren’t already enrolled, find the insurance option that works best for the situation you have to set up for your family, whether it is the right type of Medicare coverage, or if their situation requires long term care insurance.
  • No doubt your parents will likely be on one or several medications as they get older, so staying on top of their health needs early on will help in the decision making process for caring for them when the time comes.
  • As far as their finances are concerned, you have to also consider if they are able to manage money-related decisions and pay bills on their own. If they cannot, then you have to look into getting power of attorney so you can handle affairs for them.
  • Lastly, consider your own financial situation. There are plentiful options out there for caring for or providing a home for you parent, but every option will have a financial consideration as well. Find out what you will have to pay for in order balance caring for your parent with your existing family situation.

Making it Work

Once you have weighed the options and pull the trigger on how to handle the situation, it’s all about managing your time, energy, and resources to pull it off. For families dealing with this every day (having children as well or not) it’s not a simple transition and requires diligent planning and execution. First things first: delegate duties where you can so you aren’t bearing the full burden. If you have siblings, talk to them in the planning process to decide who can do what and when. If you aren’t taking a parent into your home, having a sibling or two who can divide up visits to your parent who needs care and duties needed to be handled will solve several potential problem areas:

  • Your parent will have interaction with their kids more frequently than if you were solely trying to fit visits into your schedule.
  • You won’t have to take as much time away from your own family to manage parental care.
  • You will be less likely to overwhelm yourself or be stretching yourself thin.

When you are planning how to make your own situation work, consider investing in a babysitter or nanny depending on your financial situation. It could do wonders for balancing time as you’ll know your children aren’t being ignored in lieu of care for your parent.

If your parent continues to live on their own or you choose to set them up in an assisted living facility, set up regular schedules visits to see them so it gives them something to look forward to and bring the entire family so they can see their grandkids and vice versa. Back at home, the same goes for family time with your kids. Set up dedicated family dinners, movie nights, and other activities that are anticipated and solidified. Even if balancing the care of them and your parent gets a little hectic, you have some solidified plans that happen no matter what.

Nowadays, you also have the benefit of using modern conveniences and technologies to make your situation easier. Though it is often just assumed that seniors and new technology don’t mix, the number of seniors using smartphones and other technologies has been growing and this can benefit their situation greatly:

  • If your parent is unable to drive anymore, using travel apps like Uber and Lyft are affordable and easy to use to help your parent get around.
  • Ordering delivery through Grubhub makes getting food easier, and many grocery stores now offer delivery services as well.
  • Using smart home technology can empower an older parent by letting them take control in even more aspects of their lives and having family members just a video call away makes them feel less isolated.
  • If your parent is living with you while under your care, smart home technology can help you balance your role as caregiver and parent as well because there are so many technologies that allow you to observe your parent and children through cameras installed in your home, instantly viewable from your smartphone at any time.
  • Even light switches, outlets, appliances, locks, and more can be controlled via an app so you can rest easy if you are at work and worried where your parent or child is or dread that an oven or other appliance might be left on, presenting a fire hazard.

These technologies allow them to still have independence in decisions they make in their lives as well, even while needing care in other areas. Your personal care situation might involve a lot of travel on your part as well. If the parent who needs care doesn’t live near you or you share the burden with a sibling or other family member and have to visit them from afar, or even if you have to travel with your parent often, there are a lot of considerations. Look into different airports and what they offer and think about possibly getting a credit card that has benefits designed to make travel easier and might work for your financial situation:

  • Call ahead before your flights and find out if they have assistance options such as expedited screening for seniors or services like providing a wheelchair prior to boarding and after the flight for your senior parent.
  • Research ahead of time to find out about airport services such as family restrooms, play areas, and wi-fi access to help out while traveling with children.
  • Look into getting travel or airline specific credit cards that have benefits such as priority boarding, free lounge access, or even automatic trip-cancellation insurance, which can help financially and help you juggle your family duties during frequent travel.

Finding the Balance

There is a lot of work ahead of you if you’re part of the sandwich generation, but there’s also a silver lining as well. Many people who deal with handling this say that seeing their parent being able to spend more quality time with their children is a wonderful benefit that comes from this challenging circumstance. If you parent is suffering from a deteriorative brain disease, being able to spend time with their grandkids will help exercise their brains and keep their spirits high.

Also, by caring for your parent as they grow older, you’re teaching your children important lessons about the value of caring for family. And a piece of advice that goes for any mom or dad even before also caring for a parent as well is to always find a way to make time for yourself. A good way to keep from being overwhelmed is to always find time to enjoy a personal hobby, a date night with your spouse, pray or meditate, or other activity to keep from going under while you bear this burden.