Being a family caregiver requires lots of time and focus given to your older family members who require care, and if you have your own children as well you might feel squeezed at times between needs on both generations. None of us wants to lose any of our family relationships when we become family caregivers, but the risk is very real.
In the best scenarios, when we become family caregivers our kids are grown, and we have an empty nest at home, leaving us with plenty of free time to care for older family members. That’s pretty much what I experienced when my mother began to need more of my focus and attention. While I still had responsibilities to my husband and at work, I had enough freedom to make frequent visits to Georgia where my mom lived. It was helpful to see her more often, and I could recognize signs of decline that my brother didn’t realize when he saw her nearly every day.
Unfortunately, having an empty nest isn’t reality for most family caregivers. The “sandwich generation” is aptly named. Whether your children are in kindergarten or in high school, they still need time with their parents, and if mom or dad are also managing care for other family members, they can find themselves stretched to unmanageable lengths. Younger children need closer supervision and direction, while tweens and teens have wholly different needs for the presence and attention of parents in their lives. Your kids may feel resentment, frustration, loneliness and even anger if you are absent from important events in their lives because Lolly or Pop had a doctor’s appointment or was in the hospital. School performances, classroom presentations, field trips and the like are all special opportunities for you to support your child, learn more about his or her interests, and demonstrate their importance to you. When such events occur, put your backup plan in place and have someone else provide care for a period of time so you can be away with your child.
When your children are young it’s also your responsibility to nurture the relationship between your child and the older family members you care for. Plan time spent all together and let your child help provide care if this is possible and appropriate. Organize a story-telling session where your mom or dad tells a story from his or her childhood and your child relates one of their own. Highlight the similarities and watch a relationship begin to blossom!
Family caregivers with older, grown children are often still needed for advice, wisdom, friendship or even babysitting for grandchildren on occasion, leaving constraints on your ability to give care to others. These are special opportunities to deepen your relationships while also encouraging your grown children and demonstrating your constant support and love for them. While they probably don’t need help with homework anymore, it’s nice when you can take some time to hear about your daughter’s weekend away with friends, or your son’s job offers. While these conversations are usually spontaneous, it’s important to be able to value and honor the time they require, and this time is an investment you can never get back if it is lost. When the call comes, carefully evaluate whether you can step away from caregiving for a little while and give your focus to your child. If you cannot, explain your situation and schedule another time to talk when you will be free. If the event is larger, like a wedding or the birth of a grandchild, move heaven and earth to activate your backup plan and show up for your child. The backup plan is invaluable to your ability to manage being everywhere you need to be, but with thoughtful planning you can win at both parenting and caregiving.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about healthy parenting as a family caregiver.