Sandwiched! Parenting Your Parents Too

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Many parents are not only juggling the role of mom or dad to their own kids, they are also caring for their aging parents.

Today for Mom-Monday, I’m sharing an article I wrote for Sacramento Parent Magazine to hopefully provide resources and tips to those of you who are in this situation…

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Sandwiched! Parenting Your Parents Too

Jennifer Tlustosch is a Rocklin mom of three young girls. In addition to juggling her roles as mom and wife, on top of her own pursuits, she spent a year helping to care for her 94-year-old grandmother. During that time, Jennifer traveled to Citrus Heights about four hours a day during the week to look after her grandmother. “The biggest challenge was finding time for my own family and for me,” she says. Fitting all these demands into her schedule was difficult. Even exhausting.

Yet Jennifer is not alone. She is a member of “the sandwich generation,” just one of millions of moms and dads caring for aging family members while raising their own children. As more people start families later in life, and as Americans continue to live longer (the number of Americans age 65 or older will double by the year 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), even more people are expected to find themselves sandwiched between two generations.

Their challenges are daunting, to be sure, but those who have learned to cope with the situation find it can also bring unexpected rewards.

The Time Crunch
Finding time in an already busy schedule to visit or care for an aging family member can be hard, as Jennifer knows. Even simple things like grocery shopping and getting to soccer practice can become difficult when your to-do list suddenly includes taking Dad to the doctor or picking up your Mom’s prescription. Additional paperwork, meal preparation, health care appointments, and other errands add to the crunch.

The Stress Factor
Caring for an aging relative can be emotionally challenging. “It’s hard to see someone get to the point where they have to rely on the care of someone else, when you know how much they want to be independent,” Jennifer shares.

Barbara Virga, who lives in Roseville with her husband and teenagers, had her mother living with her for many years. While the experience was positive for the whole family, Barbara felt some concerns as well. “When I was at work during the day,” she says, “I sometimes worried about my mom, hoping she wouldn’t answer the door to strangers or answer random calls and provide vital information. I also hoped she was getting the right nutrition and taking her medicine.”

Barbara says that the benefits of having her mother there far outweighed any concerns, but she acknowledges that wasn’t always easy, and that the roles and responsibilities within the family were a little different than they would be otherwise. While she was grateful for all that her mother did to help out, and her mother enjoyed being able to contribute by doing laundry or helping with light housework, Barbara sometimes felt guilty when she thought she should be the one spending more time doing those things. In addition, Barbara says it was sometimes hard expressing her concerns to her mother, feeling as if she was parenting her parent.

The Financial Pinch
Caregivers who find themselves helping with the cost of their loved ones’ care while covering other expenses (such as tuition for their children), often find themselves making significant sacrifices, from holding off on discretionary spending to delaying retirement. In other cases, individuals may leave their jobs, take unpaid leave, or retire early in order to care for an aging relative, impacting their own financial futures.

Sarah Litchney, an attorney at the Litchney Law Firm in Folsom, California, educates clients on how to avoid posing these financial hardships for their families, “through proper planning ahead of time.” This might include establishing a living trust and advising them on how much life insurance and long-term health care insurance they should buy. “Our clients who have purchased long-term health care insurance tend to do it in their late 40s and early 50s, before the premiums get too expensive,” says Litchney.

Mark Hyjek is an Attorney at Law who specializes in Elder Law. He says caretakers have two primary financial considerations: The first is whether or not the parent or relative has adequate resources, and the second is determining how to access those resources, i.e. who has the authority. Hyjek points out that assistance is available, whether it is for tax planning, financial planning or legal work. He recommends getting professional help in these areas and says that it is important to involve the entire family in the planning and decision-making process.

The Value of Family
Although Jennifer no longer oversees her grandmother’s care, she’s grateful for the experience. “As hard as it was, I will treasure the time I had with her,” she says. “I didn’t know her as well as I wanted to growing up because I didn’t see her very much, and being with her—doing things like watching TV and sharing recipes—was great. The experience was hard, but it was a blessing at the same time.”

Barbara grew up seeing her mother and aunt care for her grandma, so having her own mother move in seemed natural. “I didn’t think twice,” she says. Barbara is happy that she has been able to pass the same example on to her kids. Having her mother there also provided her teens with another person they could talk to and confide in, and they often did. Barbara frequently found her kids hanging out in her mother’s room upstairs. “My mom was always involved in the kids’ lives,” she says. “It’s all they’ve known.”

Coping
While each family situation is different and there’s no magic solution, these suggestions can help make the “sandwiched” experience a more positive one:

• Know when to ask for help
Share care giving responsibilities when possible. Barbara’s sister helped by taking their mother out on weekends and on vacations; she also oversaw their mom’s finances. Sharing responsibilities like this can go a long way in helping to prevent exhaustion and minimize stress.

• Plan and prepare
Vince Maffeo is Director of Operations for Comfort Keepers, a family-owned business that provides in-home services and care for the elderly. Maffeo recommends that people make sure their parents’ legal, financial and medical affairs are in order. He also suggests taking a look at things like long-term care insurance and other ways to cover costs, and he stresses the importance of knowing the different care options available, from in-home services to adult day care to long-term care facilities.

• Make time for yourself and your family
If you have a tradition of taking your kids to the lake on Saturdays, keep that tradition. “Even if it means asking a friend or a neighbor to watch your kids for a little while, make time to go out with your husband,” Jennifer urges, “…make time for yourself, too!” Professional care giving services can provide respite when family members are not available.

• Encourage your loved one to stay active
Jocelyn Ives is Manager of Community Relations at Comfort Keepers. Ives says seniors benefit tremendously from staying connected with others their age, especially those who share common interests. Many community centers offer senior programs that help elderly individuals have fun together while staying active.

• Seek support
Just like sharing with your mom-friends can help you with parenting decisions, connecting with others who are “sandwiched” can make care giving easier too. Besides relieving emotional stress, you can pick up valuable tips and discover new information and resources through formal or informal support groups.

Juggling the priorities of parenthood is never easy, especially within the sandwich generation. But planning ahead and knowing the different resources available can make the experience easier and more rewarding.

Help Is Here!
If you’re balancing caring for your children with caring for your parents or another family member, and live in the Sacramento / Northern California area, these local resources can help:

The Senior Connection
Eskaton’s community service offers free information and assistance in accessing resources to help with seniors’ needs. They also have information about local support groups.
5105 Manzanita Avenue, Carmichael
(888) 334-3490

Loving Companions Senior Services
A member of The Senior’s Choice network, Loving Companions specializes in providing one-on-one, in-home care, assistance and companionship.
(916) 509-7125, http://www.loving-companions.com

Comfort Keepers
Providing non-medical, in-home care and assistance, Comfort Keepers helps elderly individuals maintain the highest level of independence possible. Offices are located throughout Greater Sacramento.
(916) 933-8383, http://www.comfortkeepers.com

The Alzheimer’s Aid Society of Northern California
This non-profit provides free information regarding caregiver resources, as well as classes and support groups.
2641 Cottage Way #4, Sacramento
(800) 540-3340, http://www.alzheimersaidsociety.org

Del Oro Caregiver Resource Center
This private, non-profit program offers a variety of information and referral services, respite for caregivers, and information about support groups.
5723-A Marconi Avenue, Carmichael
(916) 971-0893, http://www.deloro.org

Rebuilding Together
This volunteer home repair organization installs grab bars, railings, ramps, and other senior assistance devices at no cost to qualifying low-income households. Households that don’t qualify can still benefit from RT’s fee service program.
(916) 455-1880, http://www.rebuildingtogethersacramento.org

Dial-A-Ride
City or county offices and Web sites can provide information about transit services like Dial-A-Ride, a low-cost transportation option that can relieve you from chauffeur duties.