Balancing a Caree on One Side, Children on the Other


Balancing a Caree on One Side, Children on the Other

BalanceBecky does her best to juggle her three kids and her elderly mom. But without fail she feels like she drops the ball just about every day. And, the balls she drops seem to always involve the kids.

Can I do this, she wonders, can I care for my mother and raise my children?

The sandwich generation--those who care for family members while raising children--experience a tough balancing act. Children, with their enthusiasm and zest for life, sit on one end of the scale. Carees, with their life-zapping chronic illnesses, send the scale out of whack. It would seem the stress of raising children can't be matched. Until you begin caring for a family member and realize that pressure is unparalleled.

Balancing the scale is a process, with the scale tipping toward your children one day and your caree another. It's often not about keeping the scale even but about creating new priorities each day to prevent the scale from tipping over.

These tips can help:

1. Involve the kids in caregiving as appropriate. While you'll want to make sure personal care stays behind closed doors, children can lend a helping hand. Younger children can play games with your caree and make sure necessary supplies (like a box of tissue) remain within reach of your caree. Kids also can engage your caree in conversations about their day in school and show off their latest masterpieces. Older children can show photos and videos of their school performances and activities. You'll also want to let children know how to alert you if they sense or see a problem. Caregiving could separate you from your family; involving the kids keeps the family a unit.

2. Schedule one-on-one time with each child. As often as you can, schedule an activity for you to enjoy alone with each child. And, during the activity, focus on your child, enjoying the time you have together. If you worry about what's happening with your caree, you're spending time away from your child and with your caree. The activity with your child doesn't have to be away from home or expensive. It just has to have your undivided attention.

3. Schedule family activities each month. It's okay to plan regular activities without your caree. The break from worrying about pushing a wheelchair or assisting your caree in the bathroom will do everyone good. (Read our articles about managing guilt to make sure you don't bring your guilt to your family activities.)

4. Hold regular family meetings. Communication is critical in keeping the balance scaled. Be clear about responsibilities that each member of the family has. Discuss the disease process and any changes in your caree's cognitive or physical abilities. Provide a calm and open environment to discuss worries and upsets. Be open with your children about why you've taken on your caregiving responsibility, which leads to our fifth tip...

5. Share why this is important to you. Children will guess when they don't have enough information. Don't make your kids guess why caregiving is important to you. Tell them why you help your caree, whether it's because of your values, your religious beliefs or your feelings about personal responsibility.

6. Have enough help. You may be tempted to do it all simply because you feel guilty that you can't do it all. If you do it all, you tie your hands, which means you won't have time for what's truly important--being with your spouse, your children, your caree. Having enough help from home care agencies, social service organizations, your house of worship, and other family members and friends liberates your hands, creating time for what's really important to you (and it's not laundry and a spotless house).

7. Vent to your support system rather than to the kids. Caregiving can be a frustrating experience and give you opportunities to curse and scream like never before. You may be tempted to air your frustrations to your kids. Be honest with your kids when you're having a bad day but vent your true feelings to your spouse, friends, support group. Caregiving can provide great opportunities for you to teach your children about helpful coping strategies and healthy perspectives.

8. Everyone gets a break. Breaks are important for you, your kids and your caree. Make sure everyone gets a break from everyone else on a regular basis. And, be sure everyone has moments of privacy.

9. Keep the kids involved in normalcy. Caregiving certainly can turn the headache of car pooling into a migraine. Work through the challenges of transporting the kids to ensure they enjoy what keeps them feeling like kids.

10. Leave room for fun. Caregiving is serious business, which is why it demands a good sense of humor. A too-serious approach to caregiving will make everyone stiff and stressed. An ability to find the humor will keep you and your kids loose and coping.

How do you balance being both a parent and a family caregiver? Please share in our comments section below.

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