Dear Barb-Stuck in the Middle

Dear Barb:

I am the mother of two teenagers and I work full time and take care of my aging parents, plus my husband takes care of his aging parents.  We are so busy taking care of everyone that we don’t have a life of our own.  We both have siblings and they are doing what they can.  The stress is wearing on our relationship, both with each other and our teenaged daughter.  Our parents are fairly healthy, they just need someone to check up on them and do their shopping and stuff like that, which wouldn’t be a problem if we weren’t both working full time.  Help! We want to be there for our parents, but we also want to have our own life.  Thanks, Julie.

Hi Julie:

You are presenting an all too familiar scenario, called the sandwich generation.  You have your own family to take care of and now your parents need you to care for them as well.  It’s a difficult place to be in, but you can learn to manage.

First you need to step back from the situation to get some perspective.  Talk to your parents, their doctor and any other professionals they are dealing with and find out what kind of care they need.  After you have a better picture of what is required of you and your siblings, you need to have a family meeting.  You cannot take this on yourself.  Also you mentioned you have a teenager, perhaps they can help with the care of their grandparents.  They can shovel the driveway, cut the grass or pick up some groceries.  This is a family affair and everyone needs to get involved.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to the resources that are available in the community.  For example, you could have meals on wheels come in to deliver fully prepared meals to your parents and your parent’s in-law.  This will ensure they are getting a healthy meal, when preparing meals becomes too much for them.  You could also explore housekeeping services for your parents.  Vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms becomes a cumbersome task for someone with a health issue.

But in addition to caring for your parents, you need to take care of yourself.  If you are tired and not eating right, you are not going to have the energy to care for anyone.  Make sure you get a good night’s sleep and make healthy food choices which will keep you from getting sick.  Most importantly, take some time away from your parents.  Let your siblings take over while you go on a short vacation, like a weekend getaway.  Also make sure you take time to participate in family activities.  Take a skiing vacation with your kids, or a day out hiking or to the beach.  Most importantly keep the lines of communication open with your parents, spouse and children.  At this point your parents do not seem to be needing a lot of care, so now is the time to discuss the future and what choices you and your siblings will make when more care is needed.  Take a deep breath and pace yourself, you can do this Julie.

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