Almost 49 million Americans care for adults; about two-thirds of these caregivers are women. Over a third of caregivers are caring for parents; most (86%) are caring for relatives (including parents). Almost 13 million Americans are caring for both children and parents. That’s what the National Alliance for Caregiving* reported after compiling and analyzing data from three studies. This data reflects the challenges facing the “sandwich generation” (those who care for both children and parents simultaneously) in multi-generational families.

How do we prepare for the challenges of a multi-generational family?

Multi-generational living can present challenges, but you may be able to avoid some of them if you’ve established a foundation of communication and openness. Life for the sandwich generation might not have to be too difficult! Here are some tips from the non-profit organization Independence Care System:

  • Have an honest conversation with your spouse or partner about what you can afford (emotionally and financially) to meet your parent’s needs while still providing for your own children. Have the same conversation with your parent. Set expectations up front so you can all work together to meet your family’s needs.
  • Be flexible with your limits. Multi-generational living is rarely as tidy, organized, and smooth as you might like it to be, so know which standards you can comfortably relax and those you can’t compromise and still keep your sanity.
  • Make the most of everyone’s contributions. Give your family members tasks and chores that suit their abilities: If grandma can’t go downstairs to the laundry room, perhaps she can still fold clothes if your son carries them up for her.

What are some tips for maintaining harmony in a multi-generational family?

Multi-generational living is a balancing act that requires cooperation and a good sense of humor much of the time. Here are some tips from and the Independence Care System to keep in mind:

  • Ask for help when you need it. Let your siblings take a turn at caregiving to give you a break. Or, ask them to run errands for Grandpa or take him to visit a friend. If you don’t have family members nearby, identify and take advantage of community resources for respite care and other eldercare services.
  • Find common interests that will build deeper family relationships. Some ideas include cooking, watching classic movies together, gardening, or even a health or wellness pursuit such as walking, swimming, or yoga. Make family unity a priority to reduce some of the petty irritations and squabbles that might naturally occur in a multi-generational family.
  • Escape and take time for yourself. Remember the advice you get on a plane? Put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. Make time to do things you love, either alone or with a friend. Go out for lunch, take a long bubble bath, or just declare a day of rest from your chores and hide yourself away with a good book.
  • Above all, keep the lines of communication open between you and your spouse or partner, and you and your parent and children. Learn to express your needs clearly. It’s OK to say “I need some help.” You can head off resentments by being up front and honest with your family.

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*Source: “Caregiving in the U.S – Executive Summary,” The National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP — 2009.