Children of sandwich generation caregivers gain more than they lose

Lessons learned from my years of juggling parenting and caregiving

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by Ray Burow |

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With its graduations and awards ceremonies, the end of the school year is a complicated season for sandwich generation caregivers, who must provide care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another life-altering condition while simultaneously raising their kids.

These carers face an emotional battle because they’re constantly pulled in different directions by their desire to be present for their children and their commitment to the person they’re taking care of. Although love is multiplied in a multigenerational household, a caregiver’s attention is divided.

The majority of Alzheimer’s caregivers are women. While the number of caregivers who are also mothers in the U.S. is unknown, it’s clear that it’s not easy for moms to both parent and provide care for a loved one at home.

My late mother was diagnosed with dementia, which progressed to Alzheimer’s disease, while I was raising five kids. Sharing caregiving responsibilities with my sister lessened my anxiety, but I still often worried that I was neglecting my children.

If I wasn’t worrying about the kids, I was concerned about Mom. It was a battle exacerbated by school, sports, church events, award ceremonies, and leisure activities. There was little room for spontaneity or just hanging out, which we used to do before I became a caregiver.

But we learned to navigate a new normal. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it was a valuable experience for each of us in my family.

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Lessons learned

I learned to juggle during the sandwich years. Not literally, of course. Caregiving while parenting is similar to juggling bowling balls. For me, it was more like spinning plates: Start one spinning, turn your attention to another, get that one going, and return to the first one before it falls from its precarious position and crashes. After a while of this, I finally realized that plates do stop spinning and will eventually crash to the ground.

I had to accept that I was only one person and couldn’t be in more than one place at a time. I tried to attend every award ceremony and basketball or soccer game, but I couldn’t be present 100% of the time. As much as I hated it, sometimes my kids’ needs had to come second.

Love conquers all

Recently, I came across a Facebook Reel posted by a caregiver whose young son had been observing her as she cared for her father. She recorded the tender moment between grandson and grandfather. As I watched, I was reminded of my own family’s experience.

My son used to play with Legos or toy cars in the same room as his grandmother to keep her company when my attention was required elsewhere. The kids included my mother in their shenanigans, and she was more than willing to oblige.

How, you might ask, does a grandma with dementia play hide-and-seek with her grandkids? Easy: Before dispersing to their own hideaways, the kids “hid” Granny under a blanket. Giggling, and with her shoes peeking out beneath the covers, she wasn’t too hard to find.

None of my five kids could define aphasia, but they knew their grandma sometimes didn’t recognize who was who in photographs, which could have been a symptom of Alzheimer’s. That understanding prompted one child to write labels and attach names to a photo. One of the kids was holding a turtle in the photo, so it was also labeled.

Caring for Granny in our home deepened the children’s love for her and planted a seed of empathy. Without realizing it, they became loving caregivers.

Today, we’re no longer in the sandwich years, and the caregiving season has passed for us. But what the children gained during those years remains.

If you’re a member of the sandwich generation, take heart. It’s entirely possible that your children will gain more than they lose during your family’s caregiving season, which will serve them well in all walks of life.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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