Caring for aging parents while raising your own family is not easy, but it s becoming a reality for more and more parents. Malia Jacobson from ParentMap gives us some tips about surviving and thriving in The Sandwich Generation.

What is The Sandwich Generation? Is this mainly a situation that affects women?
The sandwich generation refers to parents who are actively raising children while caring for their aging parents at the same time, often during their own peak career years. So it's a juggling act. It certainly includes men as well, but statistics show that it is largely female issue.

42 million women between 35 and 54 make up the sandwich generation. Nearly two out of three adults caring for an older family member or friend are female. It just seems to be a fact of life that caretaking usually falls to the female partner-even if the parent in need of care is her spouse's, not hers.

Why is The Sandwich Generation Growing?
There are lots of demographic factors at play here, which is why this is such a relevant issue right now.

Our population is aging. By 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 19 million Americans will be 85 or older. But while the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to increase by 2.3 percent annually, the number of eligible family caregivers will only increase by .8 percent. That puts a squeeze on family caregivers: there are simply more aging adult who need care and fewer family members to care for them.

The trend toward delayed parenthood (pregnancy rates for women aged 40-44 have been on the rise since 1991), is also a factor. More women find themselves caring for elderly parents while their own children are still firmly in the nest.

Are there ways that caring for an older family member can benefit younger families?
Managing both roles simultaneously comes more naturally than many parents assume. The skill set used for parenting and the skill set used for caregiving are the same, because you're parenting your kids and you're essentially parenting your parents, too.

Witnessing and taking part in family care giving can really be a boon to children. When children see their parents caring for a family member, they really get to see the family's values in action. Things like empathy, compassion, resourcefulness, and putting other's needs ahead of our own. Parents may talk about these values with kids, but nothing drives the point home like seeing parents really live those values.

Parents also report that their children develop much deeper, more meaningful relationships with their grandparents as a result of family care giving.

Tips for parents

  • Involve Children: When children help out, it lightens parents' loads and builds responsibility. Teens can drive grandparents to doctor's appointments; grade school children can help problem-solve; even preschoolers and young children can help by playing cards and board games with their grandparents.
  • Organize Triage: Family caregivers often have to keep siblings and other family members in the loop. Organize phone or face-to-face meetings with a set start and end time. If meetings are contentious, consider hiring a third-party mediator who specializes in family caregiving.
  • Plan downtime: Caregivers must prioritize their own health. Arrange for planned time for exercise, socializing, and other things that gave life meaning before you took on the caregiving role.
  • Seek out support: Know that you are not alone in this; there are literally millions of other caregivers fighting the same battles you are. Go to the ParentMap website for a list of local and national resources for family caregivers.

Check out Malia Jacobson's article on the ParentMap website for more information.

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