About half of all American adults are part of the so-called “sandwich generation”: people caring for their aging parents while also raising children. Caring for generations bookended on each side of you can be very rewarding — but it can also stretch you emotionally and add to your caregiver stress. Here’s how you can balance your time between your parents and children.
Involve Your Children in Their Grandparents’ Lives
One way to combat caregiver stress is to get your kids more involved with your parents. Your children will learn lifelong lessons as they spend time with your parents. Many kids feel more comfortable chatting about the day-to-day challenges in their life with their grandparents, which helps them build self-esteem and gives them a sense of family history.
Some activities that can help children and grandparents bond include:
- Game nights. Play video games on the Wii on some nights and a favorite board game on others.
- Family dinners. Have everyone talk about their day at the dinner table.
- Document memories. Put together scrapbooks and picture walls where kids and grandparents each share their favorite photos.
- Weekly review. Start a game where the grandparent and grandchild each share something they’ve learned over the past week with each other.
- Get crafty. Do weekly craft projects together.
- Share housework. Complete chores — such as folding laundry or washing dishes — together.
Bonding time doesn’t always have to center around fun and games. Encourage your children to do small things to help their grandparents, like bringing Grandma her crossword puzzle or Grandpa a cup of coffee. This helps your parents get the things they need and reinforces a sense of independence in your children.
Encourage Grandparents to Communicate with Your Kids on Their Level
Help your aging parents get connected to things such as Facebook and texting. Learning new skills will provide cognitive benefits and diminish any feelings of isolation and boredom, while giving grandparents and grandchildren a new outlet to communicate with each other.
Give Up the Idea of “Equal Time”
One common problem that contributes to caregiver stress is the mindset of giving “equal” time to both your children and your aging parents. Don’t try to measure time in equal amounts. There will be days when your kids will need more of your time and other days when you spend more time with your parents. Allow each day to dictate the demands of your time, and be flexible.
Don’t Forget Yourself
When balancing the schedules of younger and older generations, some caregivers forget to include themselves. You’ll be a better caregiver to both your kids and parents if you make time for yourself. Even small chunks of time — as little as 15 minutes a day spent meditating, for example — can make a big difference in the way you feel.
Finally, while the balance of caring for two different generations is a challenging one, there are many benefits you can derive from helping your parents move into their twilight years while you also raise your children. Pay attention to the small moments when you feel a sense of gratitude, and allow these to carry you through your most challenging days.