Help! My Oreo Filling is Getting Smooshed Out! – A Caregiver’s Plight
It’s Monday morning. That phrase, alone, says enough. In the middle of the night your seven-year-old begins throwing up. Meeting you in the kitchen, with a slight glare and a stiff, sarcastic smile, are the words of your teen, “Thanks for having my uniform clean for the game today.” Ugh. Sigh. At 9:10, you stagger into your 9:00 meeting after finding a neighbor who promises to look in on your seven-year-old. In the back of your mind is the book you bought on how to effectively parent teens. As the meeting progresses, your mind drifts to your quick cell phone call to your mom this morning, assuring her that, “Yes, I’ll be there for the Dr. appointment to hear Dad’s prognosis.”
There are estimates that 25% of all Americans in El Dorado County, and even higher in urban areas, belong to what is termed the “Sandwich Generation.” Translation: you are caring for your children and one or more parents and feeling the squeeze in between. While tending to one’s family in not novel, living a vast distance from one’s siblings and parents is a phenomenon of the last sixty years that places additional strain. Add on top of this the delay of families having childrenwhen they are in their thirties and even forties due to economic stress, and it is understandable that the “nuclear family” can find itself wedged between the care of both children and parents.
It has only been in the last twenty-five years that psychologists and sociologists have given credence to a generation of individuals who feel their middle being smooshed out of the Oreo. When looking at what areas are impacted, there are four that stand out:
- Home: Being able to attend to the upkeep of one’s personal home, schedules, bills, and appointments while balancing that of the aging or sick parent. Little “down time” exists for the caregiver and home ceases to be a sanctuary.
- Finances: Caregivers may find that their budget is strained by taking time off of work, or, if necessary, leaving work entirely to balance care for children and aged parents. Additionally, advocating for a parent’s health issues can result in extensive paperwork, securing secondary medical coverage, and seeking out multiple health providers, which can necessitate leaving/taking time away from work, creating financial strain.
- Work: As stated earlier, caregivers may need to cut back or leave their job temporarily or permanently. Even the “working at home” caregiver will succumb to the strain of making space for this balance.
- Health & Well Being: “Feelings of guilt, depression, isolation, and lack of appreciation are common for caregivers who do not hear, ‘thank you,’ ” reports Linda Dean, from El Dorado County’s Family Caregiver Support Program. It is not uncommon to hear that caregiver’s ignore their own health needs and requirements for adequate nutrition, rest, and relaxation.
- Accept Help. Let me say that again, only this time, I want you to say it out loud to yourself: ‘I’LL ACCEPT HELP!’ When friends ask, “What can I do?” and you say, “Nothing,” over time they will stop asking and you may feel bitter or isolated. Let them help. Yes, you can pick up my items from the laundromat. Yes, you can take my children home on Thursdays. Yes, I would love it if you brought over a meal. Practice saying, ‘Yes!’
- Take breaks without guilt. When people worry excessively, therapists recommend scheduled worry times. This is along the same lines. Schedule some down time. Get a pedicure. Go for a walk outdoors. Have coffee with a friend. You cannot help if you are not filling up your empty vessel.
- Talk. Find someone who has been through this. Chances are he/she will have a warm shoulder and practical advice that is helpful. A caregiver support group may not be something you can squeeze into your already busy life, although it can be helpful. Online support such as AARP’s website, www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/, can offer you help from home.
- Get proper nutrition and exercise. Physician Dr. Mark Holthouse, of the Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine, www.cfim1.com, says, “Think of eating healthfully and exercising as putting some of your monthly paycheck in your 401-K.” You need your endorphins during this stressful time, and a brisk walk can clear your mind as well as benefit your body and stamina.