Family Caregivers who are also raising children are often dubbed “The Sandwich Generation” because they are caught between two generations that both need care. This creates enormous tension when the needs of both come into conflict. The Family Caregiver must continuously weigh the needs of one against the needs of the other, and then have a back-up plan in place to cover those times when both needs are urgent. Sometimes the Sandwich Generation Family Caregiver must divide and conquer to meet all of his/her obligations. But at other times, alternative resources may be tapped to achieve the desired outcome. And sometimes it’s okay to decide that everyone doesn’t need to do everything.
Chris and I found ourselves sandwiched some years back when his mother fell ill unexpectedly and was rushed to the hospital. At the time, two of our children were home-schooled in a cottage-school environment, and our youngest was a preschooler. We let the group teacher know that we would be away for several days, and we loaded the car and drove to Georgia. We were there for a week, and finally knew we needed to go home. We left with the knowledge that we might not see Mema alive again. Days after our departure, we received the call to return, and she passed away a couple of days later, with Chris and his brother at her bedside. We were blessed with the timing of these events because our children had no games, performances, big school projects or tests that occurred over the weeks we were running back and forth between Virginia and Georgia. Had these things been happening, I would have remained in Virginia, and Chris would have been with his mother.
Options available to Family Caregivers might include partnering with another family to share rides or even overnight stays for the children when aging relatives become the priority. Employing professional caregivers for elderly parents can give you the freedom to attend more of your children’s events while having the peace of mind that your parents are safe and secure. If your family is large and local, you might ask siblings or relatives to pitch in when your children have events you need to attend. Planning and organization are critical factors to ensure your success at finding balance and placing priority where it is needed.
The Sandwich Generation Family Caregiver has a tremendous opportunity to teach a younger generation how to honor their elders and care for them in ways that model respect and love. How well you manage finding this balance can mean the difference between teaching your children to resent their aging relatives or helping them see the value of wisdom that comes with age and experience, and the beauty of learning this lesson early in life. It’s your choice which lesson you offer and teaching your children the art of balance and prioritization might be the most valuable lessons of all.