My Family Care asks Michelle: As the years go on, we are finding more and more people fall into what has been coined the "Sandwich Generation". What challenges arise for individuals who are caring for both children and their parents or a partner? What support can be provided to make this a positive situation?
Grandma picked me up from school
It's unfortunate that the sandwich generation is sometimes considered in a negative light because in my opinion the positives outweigh the negatives if everyone is on board and there are some ground rules in place.
The difficulties involved can depend on the health and mobility of the adults and children involved, but in our case, we were a family with three young children when my grandmother moved in with us. She wasn't mentally or physically ill, but she no longer wanted to live on her own as she didn't drive, and it was becoming more and more difficult for her to get places, without help.
As children, there was nothing negative about it - we had Grandma around ALL THE TIME! She was there to collect us after school and feed us freshly baked scones (to this day no one has made scones quite like her) before helping us with our homework. Mum and Dad never had to worry that we wouldn't be met after school or wonder who was taking care of us.
She was an extra hug on a bad day or the supportive smile in the back of the school assembly, proud to have helped you remember your lines! When we went on holidays she would often come with us; it gave Mum and Dad a break when we'd go off exploring with Grandma, or curl up and read a book in the afternoon sun. Just thinking about it leaves me smiling.
But tensions can run high
However there can be tensions; the parent who moves in is closer to one of you, and this can cause tensions and throw off your careful balance. It can cause the other parent to feel neglected, and that Grandma or Grandpa is taking time and energy away from their spouse. There can be conflicting appointments, for example where someone is taking Grandma to the doctors. The other parent has to be home with the children, even if something else has come up. These pressures can lead to resentment towards one's spouse and in turn the grandparent who's now an additional member of the household.
Having been a part of a sandwich generation household for many years, there are a few things that can be done to make the situation seem less stressful and more beneficial for everyone.
Sit down and discuss
If you talk about the situation before it becomes a necessity, you'll understand each other's concerns and needs. Remember that just because you are willing to take on your parents care does not mean your spouse would be willing to do the same for their parents. It's important that each of you has a chance to talk about their feelings and fears and that you put a plan in place that abates those fears. Whether you implement date nights so that you still have quality couple time, or decide to write a list of pros and cons together, knowing that all your cards are on the table will help eliminate resentment later on.
Get everyone on board
Getting everyone on board is important. The children as well as the grandparents need to feel that this is the best decision for everyone. Focus on the positives but make sure that everyone knows they can bring issues up when they arise. Don't dwell on the issues that come up but focus on how they can be fixed.
Who is responsible for what?
Make sure that everyone knows what they are responsible for up front. If the dependent parents are going to be financially contributing to the household, make sure it is clear how much and how often. If the children are expected to help in any way, be it helping to prepare meals or reading with a visually impaired grandparent, make sure they know. If you are expecting your parents to take on some of the childcare requirements, make sure they are happy to do this and decide on a fair remuneration or compromise in return. By having a discussion and creating a verbal contract with everyone, it's less likely anyone will feel resentment towards the tasks they have to do.
Having your parent(s) come to live with you can be daunting, especially when the raising of your children is concerned. It's important that both grandparents and children know that you are still the parent and what you say goes. Understanding individual privacy needs is also of the utmost importance: Grandpa may never close the bathroom door, and little Jason may not knock before entering Grandma's room. These are all things that need to be discussed beforehand, or dealt with as soon as they come up if everyone is going to remain happy with the arrangement.
Open and honest
Remaining open and honest with each other at all times is the only way this will work. Your spouse needs to know they will not be attacked if they complain about something your mother did, just as you need to remember they will not want to hear you complain about their father all day long. Keeping whinging to a minimum and coming to the table with possible solutions to the issue that arise will ensure a far more harmonious home life.
Let this be a chance to foster better, stronger relationships throughout the entire family. Let your children get to know their grandparents; the bond they form will be life-changing and will benefit them. Spend time as your nuclear family unit as well, and as a whole group. Have days out and nights in... and when one of you needs 'me' time, work to make it possible!
Michelle Barr, Part of a Sandwich Generation Family