Here are the tips we promised this week to help you care for yourself as well as your aging parents when their golden years are tarnished. You can use these suggestions to reduce your Sandwiched Generation stress during the holidays and long after:
Give up your ideas of perfection and be realistic about the path ahead. You will not have the benefit you had imagined of involved, wise, old parents in your life. Acknowledge that the dementia will steadily increase and your parents will become less and less responsive to you. Be respectful of your parents' dignity even as you transfer control over their circumstances from them to you.
Evaluate your options as you keep an open mind. There is not one correct solution for everyone in your situation. It is helpful to hear from others what they have learned but you are still the only one walking in your shoes.
Look for resources in the community to help you. Recognize that you can't, nor do you have to, do everything yourself. Contact local gerontologists, talk with hospital social workers, meet with health care aides, visit nursing homes, join a caregiver support group.
Be honest with your siblings about their responsibilities. Even if you've been in conflict when them in the past, resolve to have an on-going dialogue now and be firm about finding a way to share the care-giving duties.
Take care of yourself to decrease the burnout that is common. A good support system gives you the opportunity to express your emotions and receive comfort. Set aside time for rest and relaxation, difficult as that may be to arrange. A sense of humor will get you through some tough times, as you laugh through your tears.
Look at how your past relationship with your parent has affected your present way of life. This is especially important if your parent was abusive when you were growing up. Decide to let go of the tendency to define your behavior today as a response to the memories you hold of your childhood. Make up your mind to make changes in your behavior that benefit you now.
Grow up. As you take on the complex chores of caregiver, you are the one ultimately making decisions about your own life as well as that of your parents. Both Wendy and Jon Savage matured as they reconnected with each other and their father, making dramatic changes in their lives after his death. They were able to trust themselves and take chances to achieve what they wanted, both professionally and personally.
Just as in the aptly named children's game, tug-of-war, you in the Sandwich Generation may feel like you are in a battle zone - pulled simultaneously from both sides and stretched to the limit in the middle. It is a struggle to sense the breaking point, which must be done to protect yourself for the long haul. It's not easy to put limits on the connection with your aging parents, but you need to place that relationship in the context of the rest of your life. Trust yourself as you design a plan that works for all of the family, yourself included.