Deborah J. Schwartz has seen her share of issues crop up for members of what’s widely known as the “Sandwich Generation,” middle-age individuals juggling the needs of their aging parents while also tending to their own children.
As a licensed clinical social worker and therapist for Jewish Community Services, Schwartz has counseled more than a dozen parents who are simultaneously caring for grandparents as well as their own children.
And she’s experienced it herself. A few years ago, Schwartz’s husband moved his mother into their home when she could no longer live independently. Schwartz’s mother-in-law spent the remaining three years of her life with her children and four of her grandchildren living in the house.
Jmore recently spoke with Schwartz about the challenges faced by members of the “Sandwich Generation.”
What are some of the ‘Sandwich Generation’ issues that you’ve encountered over the years?
Every situation is different. They have ranged from grandparents living out of state to those in nearby senior living facilities where children and grandchildren are involved. It might not be hands-on physical care, but they might do laundry and provide emotional support.
Some people are full-time caretakers of parents and children. For example, when the elders move in from out of state and build an addition to their children’s house. There are instances where the children will have a nurse come in to work with them and the grandparents.
Being in the ‘Sandwich Generation’ is not easy, but it can be beautiful.
There is wisdom to be gained from grandparents, and the children can see their parents taking care of their grandparents. Sometimes, the grandparents give the children more time than the parents. And some grandparents can help with financial resources, because finances can become a problem.
How do children determine what’s best for their elderly parents and parents-in-law?
They need to involve the grandparents before they need help. Have this conversation while they are still able to express their wishes. That’s best if the parents are living in town or far away. Living nearby doesn’t always mean decision- making is easier.
Consider what the grandparents say and try to determine if it is realistic. For example, can you afford to have the grandparents live in? Could they live nearby where you could work things out, such as transportation to doctors, and see that many of their other needs are being met?
What if the children just don’t want the grandparents living with them?
If they don’t want the grandparents moving in, and that’s what the grandparents want, they might need a third person to mediate. Perhaps another family member, a good friend or a doctor of the grandparents. But it might not come to that. They might be able to work this out together.
How can “Sandwich Generation” families receive help?
In Maryland, adults can be tested through an assistance program for frail adults, AERS [Adult Evaluation and Review Services]. It is a free state service that helps frail elderly and disabled adults identify services to help them stay living at home. [For information, email Communityhealthservices@baltimorecounty.gov or call 410-876-4949.]
At JCS, we have elder care consultants who will sit down with the parents and children together, let them know the different kinds of resources that are available. I’ve seen children move grandparents into the Weinberg apartments, and that has worked well.
What if a grandparent is adamant about aging in place?
Sometimes, they’ll listen to a doctor. But if possible, help them continue to be independent by aiding them with resources for transportation and many other ways to meet their needs when living independently.
It is not easy but when it works, it’s the most beautiful thing. I’ve seen grandparents who are so very alone. When there is that relationship with the children and the grandchildren, it is really beautiful. There is care all around. Children and grandchildren visit the parents, so they are not lonely people.
Is being a Jewish member of the “Sandwich Generation” different from being a non-Jewish member?
We always regard elders as among the wisest. Of course, that’s not the case when older people have dementia, but Jews have a tradition of looking upon older people as wiser. That view has decreased in general society, but our tradition says that elders are to be more respected and asked questions.
For information, visit jcsbaltimore.org or call 410-466-9200.
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.
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