Stuck in the middle

Mothers in the “sandwich generation” (between the ages of 35 and 54 who are simultaneously caring for children and aging parents), feel more stress than any other age group, according to the American Psychological Association. This stress impacts all aspects of their lives — relationships with their spouse and children, emotional well-being, and their health.

Caring for children is stressful on its own, but caring for a parent at the same time can cause caregivers to become overly stressed and even depressed.

The stress of dual caregiving is caused by numerous factors: increased financial burden, feeling as though they are torn between caring for their children and their parent, and managing all the extra duties that come along with caring for a parent. Mothers who are “sandwiched” between parents and children often take on the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities. A 2008 study of social workers reported that the majority of mothers in the sandwich generation are not prepared for all of the responsibilities that accompany caring for children and an elderly family member simultaneously. Additionally, many of those mothers were also unaware of the resources that are available to help them with their daily caregiving roles.

You are not alone if you’ve found yourself exhausted from being “sandwiched.” Here are some ways to help you reduce the stress associated with the demands of being a caregiver:

Breathe. Take time to relax and take a step back. If you have to, schedule daily and weekly down time. Determine what priorities really need to be handled, and let some of the other stuff go.

Get physical. A regular exercise routine can really help reduce stress.

Say “yes” to help, and don’t forget to ask for it! If you have siblings, be sure to include them and have them help. You can also reach out to church members, friends, and social workers.

Develop a care plan. Include your parent or elderly family member, and ensure you understand her care goals and priorities. Also, involve the children in the planning process and allow their input, particularly if they will be sacrificing time, activities, and space due to your caregiving responsibilities.

Identify outside resources to help. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information on local caregiving services. Outside resources can really help alleviate stress. Available services usually include home health, laundry services, food preparation and delivery, driving services, and more.

If resources allow, consider retaining an elder care attorney. These attorneys are very familiar with the laws, rights, benefits, and all things related to protecting the elderly. They can be a tremendous support and wealth of information and also very useful in helping to prepare for end of life care and considerations.

Guard your relationships with your spouse and children. This is important. Family relationships can really suffer when children and spouses feel they are being ignored. Moms can also become overwhelmed with guilt from being torn away from their family in order to care for their parents. Be sure to make special time for your family and schedule periodic date nights with your spouse.

The sandwich generation phenomenon is not likely to end any time soon, especially since many children are living with their parents longer, women are waiting until later in life to have children, and life expectancies are longer. It is important for moms in this role to know how to get help and how to cope before becoming overwhelmed.

Alexa Bigwarfe is the mother of three small children. She has taken a special interest in child, maternal, and newborn health and writes regularly on these topics.