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'Sandwich Generation' Parents

Many moms and dads are raising their children – and caring for their aging parents. Here are some tips to manage and ease the squeeze

Dad Linas Gobis hasn't taken a personal day in the truest sense in years. The Ford Motor Company engineer reserves all his personal time to drive his parents to medical appointments. Dad is 91 and mom is 85. Gobis, of South Lyon, also spends lunch hours at his parents' house in Dearborn Heights – his childhood home – which is luckily near the Allen Park lab where he works.

"I go to their house for lunch every day, and a big thing for me is going through the mail they get," says Gobis, 53. "A lot of it seems to be confusing – official-looking – by design, so I make sure there are no scams. I don't run their checking account, yet. Most bills are auto-pay."

Linas and wife Lydia have two kids: 12-year-old Andrius and Kristina, 9. And that makes Gobis a member of what's being called the "sandwich generation." That is, someone who is raising children and also caring for aging parents.

"They were the authority figures in my life, and now they're becoming my dependents," Gobis says.

While Gobis is an only child, he's far from alone. According to the Washington, D.C. think tank Pew Research Center, one in eight Americans between ages 40 and 60 support both children and parents. The incidence of this is increasing as people live longer and need help from their children.

It's also a trend that's squeezing those who have to care for both their children and their parents. With work and tending to the responsibilities of two generations that they love, it can be tough. But these essential tips can help alleviate some of the anxiety.

  • Keep perspective. There's no doubt that caring for older parents and younger children can be stressful. Remember that you're not alone and not the first person to go through the experience.
  • Know your limits. That is, what you can and can't do. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't help anyone else.
  • Tap into local services. Many communities have senior centers that have lots of knowledge on programs and services that can aid seniors. Meals on Wheels, for instance, is offered in many communities, and could help you get dinners delivered to your parents a few nights a week to help you balance days when you're taking the kids to soccer practice, for instance.
  • Join a caregiver support group, if time allows. There, you will find others in your shoes, who might have knowledge of other solutions and resources that can help you tackle some of the responsibilities and issues that you're handling for your folks.
  • Be honest and upfront with your parents. Of course, you should treat your parents with the respect and dignity you'd want if you were in their position. But you also would want your children to be honest with you. Don't sugarcoat or hide from the facts. If you really can't have your parents live with you, tell them. If they don't have enough money to buy a new car, let them know. If they're having trouble remembering, don't ignore it and hope it will go away. Deal with it.
  • Ask people to rise to the occasion. This includes everyone in your family – from your brother or sister who's "too busy," to your kids, who seem like they can't be bothered. Your parents are their family, too, and they can chip in. Older kids can handle yard work, show shoveling or cleaning. Teens could drive grandma or grandpa to some medical appointments. And siblings who are reluctant to help out should be given specific, regular tasks, so there is no confusion that they have a responsibility to help, too.
  • Acknowledge reality. It's OK to feel exhausted and resentful sometimes. Don't feel guilty if helping a parent occasionally feels like a burden. Just plow forward, knowing you are doing your best.

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