What kind of sandwich are you? BLT? Turkey on Rye? A grilled cheese?
Being part of the sandwich generation has nothing to do with food. It means you're stuck between taking care of your own family and your aging parents. You're sandwiched by your responsibilities.
And it's beyond stressful, especially since no one really knows the right way to take care of the people that took care of you.
We can't make your parents more independent, but we can give you these tips for caring for aging parents.
1. Be Honest, But Gentle
Your parent(s) knows they're getting older. When they fall or leave the stove on, only to realize it later, they feel embarrassed and like they're unable of taking care of themselves.
Which, probably, they are. But you pointing it out and making them feel even more embarrassed doesn't help anything. Imagine if you were in their shoes, unable to do what you see "normal" people doing.
You wouldn't want people throwing that in your face.
But then again, you can't let them live unsafely or on their own once they are truly incapable. How do you say, "I think it's time to move to assisted living or suggest a caretaker?".
One option is to go with the - "they're just here to help you with the boring stuff, cleaning, checkbooks" explanation. That makes it sound like you're trying to make your parents lives easier and it's less in their face.
The other option is to have the news come from their doctor. You can go together and pull the doctor aside, telling them what you've noticed they're unable to do at home.
Some assisted care facilities won't accept insurance unless you have a doctors note, so if you're worried about the cost - this is the right option.
And if it comes to it- you can always go for the heart. If they say "why are you doing this to me?" or something else of the sort, tell them how grateful you are for all they've done for you, and you want to return the favor.
2. Have a Sense of Humor
As your parents get older and start fading more, they may say funny things. Funny as in crazy or that they just plain don't make sense.
If they're talking to you - that's great, you can still connect with them. Even if you know what they're saying isn't true or right, as long as it's not going to hurt anybody - just nod along.
It's a little bit like when your toddler begins to put together stories. You just say "mmhm" and engage, even though they may never get to the point.
At some point, your parent may develop an awareness of their own memory issues. For example, if they forget something and you remind them of it, it's great if they can laugh at themselves.
Tell them that you're glad they're still able to find their silver lining.
And when the time comes and they're really out of it- maybe even calling you the wrong name or not recognizing you at all, it's okay to let yourself cry.
They're not doing it on purpose - you know that. Remind them of who you are but don't make them embarrassed and if that doesn't work - just play along.
3. Don't Take Away Their Access to Your Kids
Grandchildren are what help some older people want to wake up every day. But keeping kids around older people who forget things can cause your kids to ask you some difficult questions.
Be as honest with your kids as you can, in terms they can understand.
It's not fair to either party to deprive them of spending time with each other, because you're afraid of answering questions. It's okay to say "I don't know" and "It makes me sad too".
Remind them that they're still the person you love, even if they're acting differently.
4. Get Help
We cannot stress this enough. Your parents had help raising you, whether it was sending you to the neighbor's house, getting a babysitter, or having family watch you.
You didn't expect them to take care of you without ever taking a break. Ask yourself if you would expect that of your own kids - would you want them to make taking care of you their entire life?
Of course not. But still, we have guilt when asking for help. Take a deep breath and call a personal assistant or an elderly care company. You aren't going to be any use to your parents, your partner, or your own kids if you're burnt out all the time.
And yes - getting help costs money. Hopefully, your parents have some sort of plan or insurance in place that can cover it. If they don't, talk to the more lucid parent about their finances.
If your parents can't help - call your siblings. Or your aunts or whoever loves your parents. Splitting costs even 50/50 is much less of a burden than doing it alone.
8. Encourage Your Parents to Get Out More
There are senior centers in about every city in America. And if there's not a designated center, is there a YMCA or a Rec?
Those places generally hold classes that the community can take, which is something you should encourage your parents to do. Giving them a reason to leave the house is a good way to make sure they're getting social interaction.
You can even do the class with them, as a way to bond that doesn't include arguing about caretaking/things around the house.
If your parent is game, there are even elderly day care centers, where they host classes and have meals. There's a cost, but a few days a week could really free up your schedule. Learn more about elder care here.
Caring for Aging Parents
Our last tip for you, our friend in the sandwich generation, is to get a therapist. Or at least find a friend who's having the same sort of parent issues.
Keeping all your frustrations inside can have physical consequences, and your parents would never want their existence to drain the life out of you.
If you need help caring for aging parents, please get some and if you're feeling down, check out our inspiration center.