“I feel so guilty at the moment – my mum is taking up so much of my time and I am snapping at my son for not getting his homework in on time – I’m just exhausted with it all.”
Does this sound familiar?
Welcome to the “Sandwich Generation” – where increasingly, middle-aged parents are finding their time is being divided between the demands of their elderly parents and trying to maintain a balance of a happy home-life.
These divided loyalties are not uncommon.
“I am trying to cope with my daughter’s friendship frustrations – whilst ironically, Mum is complaining of being lonely and only having me to talk to.”
“I am shattered. I struggle to get a meal on the table each night – all the while, worrying that Dad isn’t eating properly.”
Coupled together with the fact that invariably our parents no longer live “just around the corner”, many people are struggling with these conflicting demands from a distance. As a result they are feeling, stressed, overwhelmed and inherently guilty.
One man said to me recently;
“Is it wrong to feel cheated? I was hoping and planning that my wife and I could now have the opportunity of spending some quality time together, now that the kids have grown up a bit – after all we’ve earned it. But instead we are having to cope with the challenges of our elderly parents.”
So what can you do to lighten the load – without you viewing your parents as a burden? Here is some practical advice :
1. PLAN AHEAD : Take action when you can rather than when you need to.
- Downsizing : Moving your parents to live closer to you or moving them into a more manageable home, might lighten the load.
- Paperwork : Start understanding your parents’ affairs – financial or otherwise. Perhaps investigating Power of Attorney at this time, rather than when it becomes an urgent issue.
- What are their wishes : Has your parent made a will? What are their funeral wishes? Whilst this might feel distressing to talk about now – not only is it a responsible course of action, but it removes a lot of the added pressures when you need to make these decisions at a later date.
2. SEEK HELP : You do not have to do this alone.
Many people are waiting to help – but are not sure what to offer.
Delegate tasks and make lists. For example :
- Neighbours and friends can often be company on hospital visits
- Teenagers can help with online shopping for the groceries
- Church groups offer support and companionship
- Grandchildren can read to their grandparents or visit
3. BE SOCIAL : Encourage your parents to reach out.
If your parent is at all ready, willing and able – then encourage them to help themselves. In the UK there is a fantastic group called U3A : University of the Third Age.
“U3A (University of the Third Age) is a UK movement of retired and semi-retired people who come together to continue their educational, social and creative interests in a friendly and informal environment.
It is a wonderful educational co-operative movement, guaranteed to give retired people a zest for life and reasons for getting up in the morning.”
Retired people can follow their interests and better still start a new hobby; from Bridge to Badminton or perhaps Scrabble to Spanish.
Maybe ask a teenager to help their grandparent get involved.
4. SELF CARE : You can’t draw from an empty well.
Remember the analogy of the oxygen mask on a plane? You need to look after yourself first – it’s not selfish – it’s a necessity.
Being pulled in a number of directions causes stress, frustration and
Try to make sure you make space for YOU. What gives you joy? What helps you relax? Whatever makes you happy – do more of that.
5. FAMILY MEETINGS : Everyone Benefits from Clarity
Communication is key. Discuss the issues at hand with those who are being affected by the current circumstances.
- Other siblings : Responsibilities can be allocated so that everyone can play their part.
- Your Children : Kids feel more secure when they understand what’s going on. Explain illnesses, or demands on time or finances.
- Authorities : Consider who else might benefit from being kept informed ( GP, School, Neighbours … )
By including everyone in the decision making process and understanding their needs and feelings, you are reinforcing the important values of Family : Love Understanding and Respect.
Everyone has a voice. Family is about supporting one another. What a great example to set, across all the generations.
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