Caregivers who are busy with children, aging parents and careers often drop one ball when juggling their responsibilities. The ball that is dropped? Taking care of themselves.
If you've ever tried to learn to juggle, according to "The Sandwich Generation Juggling Act," from the website Next Avenue, you know that you start with one ball, add a second, and when you are ready, add a third. Most people with reasonable hand-eye coordination can master three balls, but when they get to the fourth ball, things start to fall to pieces.
Today, we have a societal juggling act going on within the Sandwich Generation of caregivers—the group defined as the 24 million Americans who are juggling children, careers, and caring for an older parent. While many individuals can handle three balls (me, children, career), once the caregiving ball is added, the ball that gets dropped is "me," or the caregiver themselves.
Caregivers should take each ball of responsibility they're juggling and focus on ways to keep that ball moving in a fluid motion. Juggling really only requires getting one ball into the air at a time, so let's look at each one.
Ball 1: Children. Children can become an essential ingredient in the care of an older grandparent. Most children, even as young as four or six, are tech-savvy unlike any generation before them. Asking a grandchild to connect with his or her grandparent via computer benefits both young and old when visiting in person isn't convenient. In addition, this online visit allows caregivers a needed break, maybe even a quick afternoon nap, which can aid by providing recuperative sleep time, increased alertness, and an improved mood.
Ball 2: Career. Many working caregivers don't know that their employer may have elder care or caregiving services that can help them juggle work and caring for an aging parent. In addition, many working caregivers forget that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was created with this type of caregiving situation in mind. Almost all U.S. employers offer some unpaid leave to full-time employees. FMLA allows for eligible employees to receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave (26 weeks if caring for a covered service member or veteran). While FMLA provides job-protected leave, it doesn't require leave for the caregiving of a grandparent, in-law or sibling, leaving that to each state to define.
Ball 3: Caring for an Aging or Ailing Parent. The most critical caregiving decisions deal with senior living options or in-home care and financial aspects, which include long-term care plan benefits, legal documents, medical billing, and insurance coverage. If you have issues with insurance claims and medical billing, speak with an elder law attorney or estate planning attorney experienced with elder care and senior issues.
Ball 4: Me. According to a recent study, stress is a caregiver's Number One Enemy. Stress relief is vital and can be found in caregiver support groups. There are also online communities where caregivers create private groups inviting family and friends to assist with tasks while the caregiver attends to other activities or gets a little respite.
Making a commitment to making time for self-care is the healthiest way to maintain the stamina and mental and spiritual well-being necessary to juggle the other three balls. Self-care is not selfish, nor should it be treated as a luxury. Even if you can only carve out five minutes a day to sit still and breathe deeply, that short period of time is the most important ball to protect from hitting the floor.
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