3 Tips for Balancing Kids and Aging Parents - MetroFamily Magazine
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Panini Pressed Parenting: 3 tips for caring for kids and aging parents

by Christina Mushi-Brunt

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Parenting is a balancing act. One that I am feeling increasingly challenged by as I sit squarely in mid-life. When our son turns 18 in two days, I will have two minor children, a young adult and aging parents.

There are days when this balancing act, caring for kids and aging parent, is more obvious. Like when one of my kids is on day three of a fever. And one kid still needs extra help with their homework. Meanwhile, I’m playing the waiting game while a parent is undergoing a surgical procedure 700 miles away.

I have to confess I was woefully unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster that this season of parenting would bring. As I worry about our soon-to-be high school graduate moving toward independence, I also worry about my parents, who are in their 70s, and their ability to maintain their independence. As a mom, being pressed from both ends of the spectrum can feel overwhelming.

During the past 12 months, I have had conversations with friends in the same position also caring for kids and aging parents. We are still raising our children while also providing physical, financial and/or emotional support to our aging parents. Some have had to make the difficult decision of moving a parent or both parents to care facilities. A couple of friends are also helping with grandchildren. We’ve all come to the same conclusion about this season of life: it can get messy.

I had heard the term “sandwich(ed) generation” many years ago. But, like most life experiences, I didn’t really give it much thought until I found myself smack dab in the middle of it.

The sandwich generation is described as those adults who are raising at least one child under the age of 18 (or providing financial support to an adult child) while also having a parent aged 65 or older. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, about 25 percent of American adults are in this sandwich generation. Most are in their 40s, with 54 percent of 40 to 59 year olds falling into this category.

A newer term I have come across is the “panini generation.” Think of a panini pressed sandwich: the bread is pressed between two hot metal plates, the fillings smooshed together, sometimes spilling out over the edges. I don’t know about you, but for me, eating a panini sandwich can get messy no matter how careful I am.

Being sandwiched between kids or grandkids and parents can also get messy. It can feel even messier when the responsibilities include caring for parents with declining health, as several friends are currently experiencing. How do we manage this delicate position we’re in? Here are my top three tips.

1. Don’t go through it alone. You don’t have to try to keep your sandwich from falling apart on your own. Reach out to your community. This could be grabbing a coffee or going for a walk with a friend to talk about the challenges you’re facing. It may be joining a community support group. Here are a few local organizations that host groups and/or offer classes for caregivers and their loved ones:

Sunbeam Family Services offers caregiver support groups in several communities including OKC, Moore and Guthrie. They also have an online group that meets twice monthly.

Daily Living Centers primarily provides adult day services for seniors and adults with disabilities, but the organization also hosts a free monthly caregiver support group that is open to all.

Oklahoma Healthy Aging Initiative is a statewide initiative that’s a valuable resource for older adults and their caregivers. Resources range from healthy living classes for older adults to caregiver training that addresses caregiver stress and self-care.

2. Plan ahead. The aging process is usually gradual, but this isn’t always the case. While your parents are still in a good state of physical and mental well-being, have conversations about what their wishes are for their aging years. These conversations may be difficult, but they are necessary.

Consider topics like their financial and health statuses or when assisted/specialized care should be considered. Have conversations with your kids as well to prepare them should the added responsibility of caring for their grandparents arise.

3. Keep it in perspective. I am grateful that our children are older and thriving. At 12, 15 and 17 years old, they are more independent and able to manage most daily tasks without help. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this would be if my kiddos were still little.

I am also grateful that my parents are in relatively good health given their age. While there are clear signs of aging, they can still live independently. I know my reality may not be the same as yours.

As we approach Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, if you also have aging parents or grandparents, take some time to consider your circumstances and how you can find some perspective. 

 

Have tips to share with other sandwich-generation parents? We’d love to hear them. Email us at tips@metrofamilymagazine.com.

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