Meet “Sharona” who shared with me, “It hurts because I am a remote daughter, mother and grandmother. I worry and feel alienated from my family who are far away. My family all live in the US and South America and I am here in Israel. It’s been almost a year since I have been able to fly. My parents are in their 90’s and live in an independent living facility in Buenos Aires. I spend multiple times a day speaking with my Dad who is being overwhelmed with responsibility for my Mom who is losing touch with reality.
I am overwhelmed with guilt as I can’t be with my parents on a daily basis to help them navigate this challenging time in their lives. At the same time, I also feel guilty that I can’t help my kids while they struggle in raising their children and I can’t be there to help babysit or just spend time with them. I miss my grandchildren and virtual visits just aren’t doing it for me or them anymore.”
As the time of our forced separation from our loved ones continues due to the pandemic, the challenges of those in a “sandwich generation” intensifies. The “sandwich generation” applies to people who are caring for older parents and also involved with and worrying about their adult children and grandchildren. In the past, middle-aged adults struggled to navigate between the needs of their family and their own, and maintain a healthy balance for themselves. Today, due to many restrictions on travel, those who find themselves in the center of multi-generational sandwiches feel inadequate no matter how they try to help.
Here are some tips that I shared with Sharona:
Sharona, the first challenge is functioning in three different time zones, US, South America and Israel, and learning how to arrange your life and work during the day and prioritize connecting with family at night. You can’t take care of your day- time responsibilities and stay awake all night operating in two other time zones. Allocate time for rest, proper nutrition, hydration and exercise.
Accept that there are many things you simply can’t do from a distance. Secure local caregiving help to ensure that your parents are eating well, their hygiene needs are being addressed and that they are safe. Care-Managers can also be your eyes and ears on the ground to alert you to potential red flags, and inform you about changes in their physical and emotional health. Additionally, try to find a geriatric social worker who will assess your parents’ emotional needs and provide supportive therapy, if indicated.
If your parents complain about spending money to secure these critical services, explain that this is the “rainy day” for which they have saved for decades and they should spend the money on themselves.
Sharona, you can provide ongoing emotional support to your parents for a defined amount of time every day which will provide a sense of stability and decrease their sense of isolation. By setting an allotted time to speak with them, you are protecting yourself from caregiver burnout.
With regard to your adult children, they need to connect with you as their parent. Encourage them to create a safe, private place with you in which to vent about their stress of raising children during a pandemic and express their feelings and concerns.
Use the calendar on your mobile phone or computer to schedule interaction with the grandchildren that is mutually convenient to play games, teach them something, tell stories or simply find out about their day.
In summary, Sharona, you are not alone in these feelings. Be realistic in managing new expectations; get help for your parents to do things that you cannot do from a distance, and focus on addressing matters you can continue to do for your parents, children and grandchildren.
I recently spoke with another sandwich generation woman, who shares that she is the mother of a five year old boy and is the only child and daughter of elderly parents in their 80s. “ It’s my responsibility to care for them. I feel terribly guilty, second guessing my choice to move so far away. I would love to fly to them but it’s too dangerous to expose them to any germs I might be carrying.
“Mandy,” a 40 year old wife and mother of a 5 year old son shared, “My husband and I moved 8 hours away from my elderly immigrant parents last year due to job opportunities for both of us. When we left, my parents were stable and were supportive of our need to move for career advancement. Now my father is very frail and my mother has a myriad of physical and emotional problems. It’s too much for my father to handle on his own and, in our culture, it’s the daughter’s responsibility to care for elderly parents.
My son’s school is cancelled and I have no coverage for him. I am frustrated and can’t keep up with my remote work responsibilities while caring for my son. My husband, too, works from home and we have not yet figured out how to juggle the care for our son while still working. How do I balance all of my responsibilities while living up to the expectations I have for myself in all of my various roles?”
Mandy, your emotional basket is overflowing and it would be helpful to address these emotional needs in a therapeutic, supportive counseling relationship. Develop goals with your therapist to help you unpack your past and present relationship with your parents so as to provide a healthier emotional platform to address current needs.
Another tool to help you is to carve out private time to care for your own physical and emotional needs, and to encourage your husband to do the same.
To help your parents, investigate local social services for the aged in their county, church or synagogue. Get advice to hire a bonded caregiver to insure that they are eating and cared for properly. Also consider hiring a house cleaner on a regular basis to insure that they are living in a clean environment. Perhaps there is a local organization of their immigrant group that might provide services and emotional support that they might be more willing to accept.
Living in the “sandwich” with responsibilities for parents and children/grandchildren is hard enough, but during the pandemic, it is twice as hard. However, here are insights and tools that can help:
- Address your emotional and physical needs first. You can’t help others until you create healthy boundaries to protect yourself and meet your needs. Supportive, therapeutic counseling can provide important coping mechanisms and insights to help you.
- If there’s an option, delegate. Ask for help from siblings and relatives to share the responsibilities. If they can’t physically help, they may be able to provide financial and emotional support.
- Get help from local agencies that were created to provide supportive services.
- Know that you are not alone in facing these challenges. Reach out to friends and neighbors who can help you see beyond your struggles. Perhaps they can help you and you, in turn, can help them.
If these issues are troubling you, too, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] to schedule a time to speak.