Stress Tips

Given the newness - and suddenness - of the sandwich generation, some stress tips may be in order. It's a relatively new phenomenon and we boomers are the first to be directly impacted; many of us might be unaware of the real challenges and responsibilities for taking care of our parents. Others among us may be shocked by how quickly this new role could – or perhaps already has – come upon us.

On the one hand, we certainly understand our responsibilities for taking care of our children, and at the same time we recognize the need to take care of our parents, just as they did when we were growing up (and yes, our parents probably found those 60s and 70s to be pretty challenging themselves). But on the other hand, we can find it rather stressful and even overwhelming when several worlds collide at this point in our lives. So the first stress tip is simply this: know exactly what we're up against:

  • childcare costs
  • saving - or already paying - for college tuition/board for our children
  • health of our family relationships and attitudes
  • changing living accommodations and space needs
  • our own job responsibilities and the hours we spend away from home
  • rapidly rising health-care costs
  • reduced value of our home and retirement investments in the current economy

Add to this mix any special needs that our children and/or parents may have, together with any of our own feelings of panic and despair. We might even be angry and resentful, having to set aside prior plans to enjoy our peak earning years with more time devoted to ourselves. While it’s normal to run this gamut of emotions, it’s all the more important that we stop and regroup.

Stress Tips – Taking Stock of Our Circumstances

We know that each family and their respective circumstances will vary greatly, and what may work well for some would never work for others. But experience in the sandwich generation has already shown us that it’s better to be proactive than reactive; hence the next stress tip is to start sorting things out by asking some key questions:

  • Timing - how immediate is this problem? What is the current state of our parent’s physical and mental health? How soon do we expect it to change and in what ways?
  • Our Children - what are their needs? What do they still require from us on a daily or weekly basis? When might we expect them to launch? If adults themselves, have they returned to the nest with additional issues of their own for which some help is needed, such as job loss, a broken marriage, or unplanned pregnancy?
  • Our Spouse – is our own marriage sufficiently strong to withstand encroachments upon our time and privacy? Knowing that women are more likely to bear the brunt of care-giving, what are the spouse’s expectations? Will the spouse share in the duties?
  • Our Job – is our job secure and does it allow enough flexibility for one or both spouses to cover doctor appointments, day care trips and other necessary errands during working hours?
  • Our Roof – is it big enough for everyone to live under with a reasonable degree of access and privacy, or is additional space needed? Do we need to add some handicapped provisions, such as ramps and grab bars? Will our parent(s) be able to fully access a bathroom? Will we need some type of room monitoring system? Are there any hazards to be corrected?
  • Help – besides our spouse, can we rely upon other household members, such as teen-age or adult children, to assist with certain duties? Do we have siblings in the area that would also be willing and available (physical and/or financial help)? What kinds of community services are available if and when needed? Who takes over when the primary care-giver just needs a time out?
  • Responsibility - do all siblings agree as to how, and by whom, the elder care is to be given? Shuttling one's parents from one household to another on a rotating basis is generally inadvisable for the elders, unless they are sufficiently healthy and mobile as to prefer such an arrangement.
  • Finances – do we and/or our parents have the economic means to cover the full costs of elderly care, e.g., medicines, doctor visits, follow-up care, therapy sessions, day care, nursing visits, transportation, etc.? What about the costs of everyday living, such as food, additional utilities, clothes, daily activities, etc.?
  • Personal Health – what is our own health status? Are we physically capable of providing daily care? Does either spouse or any of the children have special health needs?
  • Family Relationships – do we or any member of our prospective household harbor any lingering or unresolved issues with our parents? Would there be any other relationship issues that make living under the same roof difficult?

Stress Tips - Conclusion

Once we've identified these key questions, we can start getting some real answers, openly and honestly. There will be challenges to be sure, but once armed with those answers, we can manage our stress much more effectively.

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