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Being “Sandwiched” as a Caregiver: Taking It With Grace and Optimism

Dana Larsen
By Dana LarsenJuly 30, 2012

At A Place for Mom we hear about the struggles and triumphs that go along with being a caregiver on a daily basis. We recently wrote a post about how caregivers are “super-humans” as they juggle multiple challenging roles with fortitude and grace.  But this interview reminds us that caregivers are just regular people trying to make the best decisions for their family.

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In honor of Sandwich Generation month, we interviewed Laurie Carter — caregiver for both her teenage daughters and for her elderly mother — to gain perspective and educate readers on caregiving in the Sandwich Generation. Now every caregiving role is unique and presents its own challenges; but Laurie reminds us that even when something is difficult, there’s a paradigm shift, optimism and things caregivers can do to make sure their own wants and needs are met.

Read the interview below to discover how Laurie and her family work as a team to juggle responsibilities and give themselves the much-needed break they need to maintain their sanity. After all, with the 40 million caregivers across the U.S. — and with 9.3 million being caregivers for both their young children and their elders* — it’s always good to get tips and learn that it’s ‘okay’ to only be human.

Question: What is the most challenging part of being a caregiver for both your children and your mother?

Laurie Carter: Finding time for me and my relationship with my husband!  I work in the school district and have summers off but, aside from that, there’s something going on in almost every single hour of my days…

Q: Do you have someone to help you juggle your caregiving responsibilities? (family members, siblings, elder companions, respite programs, part-time nursing care, for example)

LC: My husband and 2 teenage daughters are instrumental in the care of Mom.  They know that they need to touch base with her to find out if she needs anything, they keep an ear out when she takes her bath in case she needs help, they know what she needs help with and just do it without being asked.  Mom’s insurance also covers in-home nursing visits but we haven’t needed those yet.

Q: Has your family experienced financial hardship as a result of caring for both your children and your mom in-tandem?

LC: Not at all.  My Mom has great health insurance from my Dad’s job so that’s not an issue.  The only thing that isn’t “covered” is long-term care so it’s only logical for her to live with us or us to live with her, however you want to look at it.  She helps us out and carries a fair share of the daily “living” expenses; I suppose it’s her way of contributing.

Q: Do you feel it’s necessary to take time for yourself for sanity purposes? If so, what do you do to give yourself a much-needed break?

LC: I think “self time” is imperative and, as the girls get older and more independent, I can take more time for myself.  When they were younger it was illogical to think about too much “self time”.  My morning walks with ONLY my dog are critical.  I think, I vent, I simply walk without having to “do” anything else.  I don’t have to listen to anyone or help anyone or talk to anyone and I love it.  My husband and I are working on making small, financially-feasible travel plans for us to get away on our own.  In the meantime, we try to have several date nights per month.

Q: Have you ever experienced “restless caregivers syndrome“?

LC: I’ve never heard this phrase before but if it means that I wish I had a different life and wasn’t in a sandwich,  sure, on rough days, I think of that.  Then, reality sets in and I do what I have to do.

Q: Do you think American is in trouble with the baby boomer generation approaching 65+ in record numbers?

LC: I hadn’t thought of it as “trouble”.  I do think that changes will be forced on many people, companies, institutions and our government, though.

Q: What piece of advice would you give other caregivers of the sandwich generation?

LC: Allow yourself to be human.  We are not “super people”; we make mistakes; we bitch about our situation and, at times, would prefer things to have gone differently.  But, when the day ends, it is what it is.  She’s my Mom and we love her and want her to be happy, comfortable, and surrounded by family.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011.

If you are part of the sandwich generation and have your own story to share or caregiving advice for others, we’d love to hear in the comments below.

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