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Aging Parents, Guilt, and the Sandwich Generation

Do you feel guilty about not taking care of your parent yourself? Do you feel guilty that you don’t visit or call enough—even though you regularly do both? Are you currently providing some level of care for your parent but still struggle with the feeling that it’s never enough? You’re not alone.

Many baby boomers and those in the “Sandwich Generation” experience feelings of guilt when it comes to their aging parents. That feeling of caregiver guilt can be hard to get over, but you really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself—and we’ll tell you why.

What’s the Sandwich Generation?

First, let’s go over a term you might not be familiar with: the Sandwich Generation. This term is used to describe those who are dealing both with raising children (either young children or young, college-aged adults) and caring for a parent, either directly or remotely. Because people are having children later in life than what was once common, people in this situation range from those in their 30s and 40s to those in their 60s—meaning baby boomers can also be called members of the Sandwich Generation.

It’s a pretty common position to be in. According to the Pew Research Center, “nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older).”

What’s interesting is that the burden of caring for both younger and older loved ones is multi-faceted. In that same Pew Research report, it was noted that “not only do many provide care and financial support to their parents and their children, but nearly four-in-ten (38%) say both their grown children and their parents rely on them for emotional support.” Therefore, it’s not solely financial or solely emotional: the support the Sandwich Generation is being called upon to offer is coming from all fronts.

Aging Parents and Caregiver Guilt

Despite being pulled in multiple directions while still providing care to their parents, adult children can often feel what’s called “caregiver guilt.” They may have hectic work schedules, social and community demands, and their own children to support, but it’s not unusual for them to feel like they aren’t devoting enough time to their parent, even when they are already devoting all the extra time they have to that parent.

Dr. Suzanne Koven, a Boston Globe correspondent, writes that many of her middle-aged patients who are taking care of their parents all have one thing in common: a feeling of guilt that stems from the fact that they don’t think they’re doing enough.

And it’s not just coming from within. “Age, pain, and dementia sometimes make people irritable and demanding, which may cause those trying to help them feel unappreciated. This in turn, can cause guilt,” Koven writes.

Of course, one of the biggest things people feel guilty about is seeking outside help from places like continuing care retirement communities. These are communities that offer independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing to ensure residents receive the proper care according to their health needs. DailyCaring points out that there are three reasons people usually feel guilty about moving their parents into a community:

  1. You feel like you’ve “failed your duty” as their child
  2. You feel like it means you weren’t a good enough caregiver
  3. You feel their health and happiness would have been better at home

Although you may think all these feelings are valid, it’s important to take a step back, set your emotions aside, and look at it from a practical standpoint.

Why Adult Children of Aging Parents Shouldn’t Feel Guilty (And Why They Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Seek Help)

The simple truth is this: most people are not properly trained to be a caregiver. Some adult children do have the time, resources, and training to be a full-time caregiver for their mom or dad. It’s wonderful that they care for their parents—but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad child in comparison if you aren’t able to do the same.

Ask yourself: If you have a full-time job, are caring for children of your own, live in a separate state, or simply are not trained to provide care, is it fair to be critical of yourself for not providing the same care a professional would?

Whatever care you’re able to give your parent is enough. By calling regularly to check in, visiting to make sure everything’s alright, taking your parent out grocery shopping or to doctor’s appointments, or simply by spending time doing something you both love, you’re doing your duty as their child. Those things “count”—don’t be too quick to discount them as “not enough.”

Still, it’s hard not to feel guilty, even when we know it’s illogical. AARP offers these tips for dealing with caregiver guilt:

  1. Don’t aim for guilt-free caregiving. Guilt is natural. Accept the feeling, then work to minimize it.
  2. Give up the fantasy of rescuing others. You won’t be able to meet your parent’s every need. And that’s okay.
  3. Maintain balance. Don’t neglect other important areas of your life, including taking care of yourself.
  4. Tolerate ambivalence. Forgive yourself for any negative feelings you may have. It’s okay to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or even angry at times.
  5. Find other motivations. You aren’t taking care of your parent solely because you feel guilty. Take time to remind yourself you’re doing it because it’s important to you and because it’s fulfilling.

And remember—don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your parent needs something you can’t provide, it’s never a failing on your part. The best thing you can do is seek professional help.

When Is It Time to Move?

Sometimes, though, it can be tricky to determine just when it’s time to look for alternative care or living solutions. A lot of people wonder, what are some signs that it’s time to move? Well, there are many different signs, but essentially if your parent no longer wishes to live in their current home or apartment, or is no longer able to due to health reasons, it may be time to think about moving to a retirement community that offers independent and assisted living.

Independent living is a great place for seniors who are still enjoying an active lifestyle but no longer wish to deal with the hassle of homeownership or things like chores and cooking. Assisted living is also for those who are active but may need some help with daily living. The benefit of a community that offers both is that if higher levels of care are ever needed, all the help your parent will need is available on one campus that they’re already familiar and comfortable with.