Sandwiched in the Middle

Baby Boomers are earning a new name – The Sandwich Generation. As they rapidly approach retirement, they find themselves stuck between raising their own children and caring for their elderly parents.

It can be difficult for middle-aged children, often parents themselves, to adjust to this new role-reversal of caring for their aging parents, but they are not alone.

Annette Stapp, the president of home health care organization Senior’s Helping Hands, says the rising number of adults taking care of their aging parents need to know “other people are going through the same thing. They’re not alone. There is information and help available out there for them.”

Caring for an aging parent can mean assisting them anywhere from a few hours a week to providing continuous 24/7 care. Adults who work full-time, are often left with limited options. “You can care for your parents yourself, put them in a nursing home or get someone to come help you,” Stapp says.

Debbie Burge; mother, grandmother, wife and daughter is a middle-aged woman with an aging mother-in-law and kids of her own. She is just one example of many adults who are trying to juggle her own family’s needs while caring for an aging parent.

As a mother of three with one still in school, Burge’s first duties are to her husband of almost 30 years and their 11-year-old daughter. She drives 30 miles every morning to meet her other daughter, Whitney, halfway where Burge picks up her 5-month-old grandson to watch him while Whitney goes to work. Later, after Burge picks up her own daughter from school, she meets her son-in-law to return her grandson back to his parents.

To add to the mayhem, Burge’s aging mother-in-law moved in with her last spring. Now, the stay-at-home mom spends her days caring for her own daughter, her infant grandson, and her husband’s mother. Twenty-six-year-old UCO grad, Whitney Cheek doesn’t know what she would do without her mother’s help every day.

Burge admits she can get overwhelmed at times, she says it helps to have her priorities straight. “There will always be dishes and laundry and dust,” she says, “but children are only children for a little while.”

Burge is one of the many Americans caring for an aging parent and a family of their own, but for some, managing this situation single-handedly may not be possible. If families are unable to provide the necessary care, Stapp recommends home health, companion care or independent living situations. These options allow seniors to retain something as “theirs.”

Recognizing the loss of independence is one of Senior’s Helping Hands clients’ biggest fears, they strive to keep those under their care as physically and mentally active and independent for as long as possible. “Sometimes I think we kind of write them off a little bit,” Stapp says, “they can teach you so much about life. Give them as much time and attention as you can, and the respect they deserve.”

“They have an incredible amount of knowledge to share with us that we never experience. Slow down just a minute and listen,” she says. “With our world the way it is today, we may never have some of that knowledge that they have. Absorb it while you can.”

Even though Burge “can’t say that we planned for caring for an elderly parent, an 11-year-old and an infant all at the same time,” she says her life at home is right where she wants to be. “I was always torn when working outside the home. I’m glad I can help out and get to see more of my kids this way. These times are pretty special.”

Any care or companionship you can provide for a senior is rewarding. Stapp adds, “At the end of the day, you go home and you know you made a difference in someone else’s life, not only to them, but to their family as well – because they can’t do it all.”

For more information about Senior’s Helping Hands, call 513-6670.

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