When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind? If you’re anything like me, images of happy families dining, laughing and giving gifts immediately flood your brain and give you that warm and fuzzy feeling all over. In the midst of coordinating travel plans, cooking and decorating, however, it can be difficult to find the right balance between seasonal work and play – especially if you find yourself in the role of the family caregiver.
Raising a child and caring for a parent…
Sure, we’ve all helped an aging relative put on his or her coat or navigate a flight of stairs but true caregiving – making sure someone gets out of bed in the morning, showers, eats, exercises, takes his or her medications and more – is much more tedious, time consuming and emotionally draining than most people can fathom. And just imagine how many individuals must find the balance between work, caring for their children and caring for their aging relative. (They are often referred to as members of the sandwich generation because they are sandwiched between adults and children that both require care.) The numbers really are staggering: One out of every eight Americans ages 40 to 60 is raising a child and caring for a parent at home.
I am constantly in the throes of learning how families are managing the care of their aging loved ones and the challenges they are facing every day. How can you ensure that everyone in your life (including you!) stays jolly? Read on for some helpful holiday advice.
There is so much going on during the months of December and January that it may seem impossible to keep all priorities straight but really all you need is a calendar and a pen…or, in this day and age, a smart phone! Start out by mapping out doctor’s appointments, prescription pick-up dates, school holiday pageants, your work gatherings and other planned events as soon as you know about them to avoid double booking and overextending yourself. While there’s no way to predict the future, planning each day out to the best of your ability will help you to feel far less frazzled and much more merry
Both children and aging relatives want to feel needed and loved during the holidays, so keep them involved and engaged with specialized activities. The younger ones will love trimming the tree or hanging up decorations while older family members will enjoy helping plan the menu and selecting presents. Members of the sandwich generation often feel they are not spending enough time with their children because they are caring for both but by designating specific times for each person, you’ll know everyone is getting an equal amount of attention. Intergenerational activities are also wonderful because the entire family is involved at once. Pick a time to wrap presents, make cookies or watch a holiday-themed movie like “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” with everyone around to really get into the holiday spirit.
With more families dispersed across the country and around the world, it’s hard to get all members in one place to celebrate. If you cannot be there during the holidays in body, be there in spirit by calling your loved one more often or hiring a professional caregiver to help put up decorations, assist with shopping, mail cards or just spend time with them. Also, since more seniors are learning about the Internet – the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 45 percent of individuals between the ages of 70 and 75 are now online – set up e-mail, Facebook and Skype accounts for your relatives. Just last month, GRISWOLD SPECIAL CARE launched Family 411, a privacy-protected social network for seniors and their families. Members have access to online updates about their loved ones that are posted by other family members, caregivers or aging relatives themselves; e-mails can also be generated to additional family members and friends that updates have been posted. Once seniors realize how easy it is, keeping in touch becomes something they can do on a daily basis.
For those who are traveling with children or aging relatives, comfort is the key to keeping everyone happy while in transit. To ensure they have everything they will need, take some time to sit with each member and compile a list of the items he or she wants to take. Most likely, they will want to pack much more than what they need so compromises will have to be made. Ask them to bring only their favorite items – clothing, toys, et cetera – and opt for travel-sized toiletries and a small pill box for necessary medications to maximize suitcase space.
Taking Care of Yourself Too
Lastly, caring for another human being for an extended period of time can take its toll on even the most caring and nurturing of people so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it means alternating days with a relative or bringing in a professional caregiver, it’s worth it to keep your relationship intact in the long run. You can also set aside “me” time every day to do something just for you and you’ll be able to return to your caregiving duties refreshed and ready to help.
About the Author
Fiona Middleton is the senior vice president for GRISWOLD SPECIAL CARE, the world’s oldest, multinational non-medical home care company with more than 200 years of combined industry experience on its staff. This franchised, non-medical home care company refers caregivers who provide in-home care services including personal care, homemaking, companionship, incidental transportation and other services to older adults, people recovering from illness and surgery, individuals with families living far away and many others. GRISWOLD SPECIAL CARE has more than 100 offices in the U.S., South Korea and Mexico. For more information, visit www.griswoldspecialcare.com.