Balancing Act – Elder Care and The Sandwich Generation

Like many women my age, I find myself in the challenging position of balancing my career, my family and my aging parents. I’m often faced with difficult decisions regarding how to spend my limited time. I’m part of the growing population often referred to as the Sandwich Generation – sandwiched between the demands of caring for the older generation while still raising the younger generation.

I should say up front that I consider myself to be very fortunate. My teenage kids are actually quite responsible and I have endless support from my husband who is our at-home parent. And my octogenarian parents are generally in good health aside from some age-related mobility issues and mild cognitive issues.

But there is no doubt some additional stress in my life as I try to take care of everyone. Mostly, it’s a matter of trying to do too much at once – sneaking out of the office early to attend a high school football game or missing a school function to visit a continuing care community.

One day my father called me on my cell phone. I was about to present at a company meeting so I let it go to voicemail. Over the course of the next five minutes he called another three times and left multiple voicemails. In a panic, I excused myself from the meeting and returned his call expecting to hear the worst. Turns out, he was having trouble logging in to his computer and he didn’t realize he had called so many times because he has a little dementia. I felt hugely relieved and incredibly frustrated at the same time. And then I felt guilty for feeling frustrated. Sigh.

I’ve done a little internet research and have learned that women are more likely than men to be sandwiched. Women are also more likely to provide personal care such as bathing, dressing or feeding and in-home care such as food preparation and cleanup .

That’s true in my family as my brother and I tend to divide things up along gender lines. I coordinate caregivers and cleaning while he keeps the car running and changes the furnace filter. Not that I’m complaining – it’s a huge help. And I know he would do even more if I asked. The tricky part is that it falls on me to ask for his help or to know what the right answer is when the reality is that I’m just figuring it out as I go along.

A couple of years ago, my mother fell and couldn’t get up. I was on an airplane headed out of town so my dad called my brother who came over to help. When the plane landed and I checked my voicemail, I immediately called to check in only to learn that she was still on the floor. Sigh. I had them call an ambulance and then spent the first day of my vacation on the phone making arrangements for meals for the week and a caregiver to come to help them. Thankfully, my mother was only bruised and nothing was broken.

It became clear that we needed to look into our options for getting them some more permanent care. I spent the next two years touring every senior living facility in the area. It’s a bit like searching for a college. I looked at big ones and little ones with services ranging from independent living to skilled nursing and everything in between. Each has their own vibe and we wanted to find something that would be a good fit. In the meantime, we made arrangements for home care to provide a little extra help with the basics each day.

There are pros and cons to each community and it was extremely difficult for my parents to make a decision so we just kept kicking the can down the road. We rationalized that at least we would know what the options were if there was an emergency. And we were all worried about the financial implications. Could they afford to move into a senior community or would they outlive their money? It was overwhelming. During this two-year period my father had a stroke, my mother fell two more times and we probably had 25 different in-home caregivers. Sigh.

Thankfully we had put my parents on the waiting list for a couple of the communities and one day we got a call to let us know that there was an opening. We had two weeks to decide if we wanted the unit. At this point, my mother was in the stressful position of having to make the decision alone. My father’s dementia had progressed to the point where he wouldn’t be much help. She knew that they needed more help so she put her emotions aside and made the pragmatic decision to move. It was happening.

The next six weeks were a blur. We signed contracts, liquidated investments, hired movers, filled dumpsters, made doctors’ appointments and contacted realtors. I took time off work and missed every single one of my kids’ activities for two weekends. It was exhausting but would only have gotten harder if we continued to wait.

They have been in the new community for over a year now. I won’t lie — it’s been a difficult adjustment for them. And we still don’t know if they can really afford it. But it’s what they need at this point in their lives and it’s a big relief for me and my siblings to know they are safe. Victory.

It has been a challenge to take responsibility for both my parents and my children but I wouldn’t trade it for being parentless or childless. These are the people in my life who mean the most to me and I recognize that they won’t be around forever. As a proud member of the sandwich generation, I realize that each day is a reminder of how blessed I truly am.

  1. The Sandwich Generation.


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