By Zina Kumok
As baby boomers begin to retire en masse, many people in their 30s and 40s are finding themselves in a tough spot. As they assume responsibility for aging parents that need care, they struggle to balance those responsibilities with a family life that includes young children.
What do you do when those responsibilities clash? How do you stay sane, and how do you keep yourself from resenting the people who need you most?
It’s a tough situation to handle, but there are ways to make it easier and give yourself some space. Here are a few tips for how to find balance when caring for children and aging parents at the same time.
Let Go of Guilt
Anytime you’re taking care of multiple people at the same time, it’s going to feel like you’re missing out. You might have to drive your dad to a doctor’s appointment instead of going on your son’s class field trip, or help your mom with chores around the house instead of going to your daughter’s softball game. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way around these time conflicts.
Guilt can make us feel like we’re perpetually falling short of our responsibilities, but there’s only so much you can do in a day. Don’t feel bad if you need to outsource a task to a friend or relative.
Make sure to take time for yourself on top of managing your family. Find a therapist if you need someone to talk to, and keep up your regular hobbies and activities. Taking care of others shouldn’t mean giving up your life entirely. Be kind to yourself.
Make Your Kids the Priority
Cameron Huddleston, Life + Money columnist at GOBankingRates, has been taking care of her mom since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a decade ago. When her mother moved in with Huddleston’s family after the diagnosis, the workload started to take a toll. Eventually, it became too much.
“I was always stressed and often too tired to be a good mom,” she said.
Even though caring for aging parents with dementia or a chronic illness might feel like a higher priority, your children still need you in their lives. Being a caregiver has to come second to being a mom or dad.
“If your parents expect you to do more, remind them that you have children who need your time and support, too,” Huddleston said. “As parents themselves, they should recognize how important your role as parent is.”
At some point, that might mean hiring a healthcare aide or moving your parent into a nursing home or assisted living facility. Remember, hiring a professional doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your duties. It just means you’re making the best decision for all parties involved.
Share the Workload
If you have siblings, enlist them to help with your parents. Dividing up the workload can be difficult if they live in a different town or state, but Huddleston says you can still make it work.
“For example, one of you might be willing to oversee your parents’ finances while the other oversees their care,” she said.
Some people even strike up a compensatory agreement, where the parent pays them for driving to doctor’s appointments, doing the laundry, preparing meals and other chores. This can make the other child feel less guilty for not being there to help, and the person providing care is less likely to feel put-upon.
The most important thing is for all siblings to acknowledge the reality of the situation. That means having frank, clear conversations about what kind of help is needed and who is in the best position to provide it.
When Doug Nordman’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he and his brother petitioned the court to appoint his brother as guardian. Doug was the conservator, which meant he had access to his father’s finances. That way his brother could make any necessary legal and medical decisions, while Doug could manage their father’s finances from hundreds of miles away.
When you’re managing a job, an elderly parent, kids, and everything else, your to-do list (and your budget) might always seem to be one step behind.
The important thing is to prioritize and do what’s necessary. You don’t have to volunteer at your child’s bake sale if your mom has a doctor’s appointment that day. You don’t have to clean out your garage if you helped your child with a science project.
When need be, use vacation and personal days to catch up or give yourself a break. In some cases, you can use FMLA if your aging parent needs a few hands-on days.
Another strategy is to outsource what you can. Ask your kids to do more chores around the house, get your groceries delivered, and reach out to nonprofit groups who might offer help. Once you start asking for help, you might be surprised at how many people are willing.
Keeping these three strategies in mind can help you navigate the responsibilities of caring for both children and aging parents – and help you not feel overwhelmed by the juggle. One additional consideration, if you have a lot of people depending on you, is to make sure that your life insurance coverage can provide for their needs, should something happen to you.
Using Ladder’s free online calculator, you can figure out how much you might want to earmark for those who benefit from your care and oversight. You can apply for a policy in minutes and get an instant decision, or apply for additional coverage if you already have coverage through work. Knowing your people will be financially protected provides invaluable peace of mind.