Your parents are aging and need your help, and your children are not yet independent. You are a member of the "Sandwich Generation," caught between the needs of your parents and those of your children.
Should you check in on your mother who isn't feeling well, or attend your daughter's recital? Do you pick your son up from school, or take your father to his doctor's appointment? You are torn, guilt ridden, and just plain tired. You also have a child who feels abandoned and resentful.
How can you prevent your children from getting lost in all the commotion of caregiving? First, be honest about your situation. Tell them what is happening, what you are feeling, and why you don't have much time for them. Encourage questions and answer them directly. Take time to listen to their concerns without minimizing or trivializing them.
Find ways to let your children know they are wanted and important. Set aside time just for them. Make a date to take your teenager to lunch. Take your younger child along to run errands, making sure to make a special stop at the park or toy store just for her. If he shows an interest in helping, give him a job. Even a very young child can bring Grandma her afghan and be rewarded with a thank you and a sense of doing something important and helpful. An older child can read to Grandfather, or help him locate his missing eyeglasses.
It may be crucial to allow your child to refuse to help as well. It is important to teach and model responsible and caring behavior toward other family members, but it is also essential to respect a young person's decisions of how and when they can help. Adolescents, especially, may be uncomfortable with their own feelings of sadness and grief over the changes in a beloved grandparent. Others may be embarrassed by some of the physical aspects of a family member's care. A small child may be frightened by her Grandmother's agitated pacing and calls for help.
If the demands of caring for an elder parent who is ill or has dementia are causing you to feel overwhelmed and resentful, your family members will feel the effects as well. It may be time to call a family meeting of your immediate family. Allow each person to talk about their feelings without being judged. Work together to find ways to share tasks and responsibilities. If there are conflicts and unresolved problems, a family counselor can be helpful.
A family consultant from FCA can fulfill the role of mediator and counselor at such family meetings. She also can help you locate resources to help with caregiving so you have more time to spend with your spouse and children. The library at FCA is equipped with materials, including videos, to educate adults and children about memory loss and behaviors related to dementias. Classes, seminars and group meetings for caregivers and their families provide information and emotional support. If you and your family are struggling to provide care for a family member and cope with other demands of family life, a call to Family Caregiver Alliance will help ease the stress. Call (415) 434-3388.
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