Wedged in a Sandwich

Many of us are not only grandparents but may also be responsible for caring for aging parents. It’s part of being caught in a sandwich generation, where, with people living longer, we are looking after parents in their late 80s and 90s but are also being called upon for occasional or even full-time duties caring for grandchildren.

When my 90-year-old mother was alive, I visited her every day in her retirement home and took her on outings whenever I could. At the same time, I often babysat my grandchildren for a weekend or a night out for my daughter and son-in-law. On one weekend when I was scheduled to babysit overnight, my mother asked to come with me. I made an excuse about the difficulty of her managing the stairs. The truth is taking care of three children was all I could manage. Her needs added to that responsibility were similar to having another dependent child on my hands. She didn’t realize how much care she needed. I felt very guilty but I also knew my limitations.

Claudine of Montreal is wedged in just such a sandwich. Her 87-year-old mother lives a few miles north of the city, and Claudine is driving several times a week to take her mother to medical appointments, making meals for her to heat easily on her own and doing her laundry. Her three grandchildren live in the city and are cared for by the other grandmother, while the children’s parents are at work.

Claudine’s life was busy enough, but when the other grandmother had a stroke, Claudine was called in to take over daily babysitting for the grandchildren, all under the age of five. “I always felt guilty that I couldn’t help out as much as their other grandmother,” she says, “but now, I am really stressed because I simply can’t look after the kids full time and still be on call for my mother.”

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Claudine did look after the children until the parents found someone else to come in but was adamant that she could not do it full time and still maintain a low stress level, a factor critical to her own health.

For caregivers, it’s important to make good health a priority, and that may often mean saying “no.”

It’s important to recognize the signs of stress. Many of us think we’re 30 years younger and can just keep going, but it’s not always possible. If you’re feeling irritable and resentful, experiencing loss of sleep and being more susceptible to colds and flu, it’s time to stop and reassess your lifestyle.

Acknowledge the stress and get help. Talk to friends or a professional or spiritual counsellor if you feel overwhelmed. Peers are often in the same predicament, and their support and encouragement will be helpful in finding solutions.

Pace yourself. Set up priorities and weed out the tasks that aren’t crucial. Make sure you leave time in the day for your own pleasure, time to sit back with a cup of tea, a good book or your favourite afternoon soap.

Give yourself a break. There are lots of agencies such as Community Care Access Centres (CCAC) in each province and respite facilities to help out with the task of looking after the elderly. Seniors centres offer respite facilities and will take elderly people for an afternoon or day of social activities. With grandchildren, enlist the help of the other grandparents or your other grown children to help out.

There’s great satisfaction and peace of mind in caring for our loved ones, whether they’re aging parents or our precious grandchildren. But taking care of yourself first means you’ll do a better job as a caregiver and enjoy your own life, too.