Minding Our Elders: Sandwich generation mom anxious about so many people needing her

Dear Carol: During this past year, my once-healthy parents have together experienced one heart attack, one minor stroke and one diabetes diagnosis. My in-laws are still healthy but also old enough to start having health problems. We all live in the same town, but since my husband travels, I’m the go-to person for their needs. We have two children in middle school.

For now, things are calm and I can get back to concentrating on being a wife, mom and employee, but I know that more issues with my parents and possibly my in-laws are inevitable. I love them all and want to do the right thing, but I panic when I think too far ahead. How do others handle this craziness when so many people they love need help? — LK.

Dear LK: You are part of what is often termed the “sandwich generation,” which means that there’s a lot of juggling in your future. It’s smart of you to be proactive by becoming more educated both in self-care and learning how to prioritize the needs of your vulnerable loved ones.

My sister and I raised kids during our elder care years, and much of the time we were operating on instinct. Beth lived about 50 miles away and traveled to town nearly every weekend while I was the in-town caregiver. We both eventually learned to prioritize as best we could, but it was never easy.

There were numerous times when I was in the middle of something concerning one or both kids and my phone would ring. The call was inevitably from Mom’s monitoring service to check on her, or the nursing home wanting me because of a situation with my dad. My kids were good about my needing to leave them in a rush, but I still felt guilty, especially if we were doing something fun or one of them wasn’t feeling well.

Every day is different, LK, and no one can give you a road map, but one thing in your favor is that more help is available now. I’d suggest that you call your parents’ local Area Agency on Aging soon to learn about what types of assistance would be available for your parents under various circumstances. You can find the agency phone number by going to www.N4A.org, then typing in their ZIP code.

I’d like to emphasize that few older people want their needs to come before the welfare of their grandchildren or the parental bond, and that may mean that you will choose to attend a child’s first concert rather than being immediately available to a parent. If your parent seems clingy and lays on guilt, you can let that go. As long as she or he is relatively safe, the right thing may be to put your kids first.

You might also try involving your kids in grandparent care, but do so carefully. Children shouldn’t be made to feel responsible for adults. Again, it’s about finding an ever-shifting imperfect balance.

She can be reached at carolbradleybursack@mindingourelders.com.