We often refer to the difficulties faced by the “sandwich generation” caregivers—those in their 40s and 50s who find themselves caring for elderly family members while they still have children at home. Meeting work deadlines and guiding teens to adulthood is stressful for anyone. Add a sick parent or parent-in-law to the equation? The stress is exponential. But sandwiched caregivers, take heart: While no one can reduce the stresses you face in caring for older and younger family members, this may be an opportunity for multiple generations in a family to share their lives.
The Benefits of Intergenerational Interaction
Many studies have shown the benefits of intergenerational interactions. Relationships with younger people can give seniors a sense of purpose, especially since they’re in the period of life where many gain satisfaction from giving back. Interacting with older adults, such as grandparents, helps teens and children understand and later accept the process of aging. It also strengthens kids’ emotional intelligence and helps them acquire new skills.
Positive interactions between grandparents and grandchildren can also ease some of the burdens faced by family caregivers. For example, if your family is engaged with each other, you may be able to find some precious time to run errands, take a walk, or make some phone calls.
Tips to Foster Relationships
So what are some ways you as a family caregiver can foster intergenerational relationships?
- Talk to your kids and your parents separately about the benefits. Outline your goals. Chances are your parent will like the idea but may doubt it will work. Younger children are usually happy about spending more time with a grandparent or a great-aunt or -uncle. Teens may resist, fearing they won’t have anything in common. Encourage them to try it. Assure them there will be no pressure, and help them plan activities they can do together.
- Think about things that will be easy for both generations. Planning ahead will make them more comfortable. It will also give you a chance to plan for some time to yourself.
- Recognize limitations. If an elderly person has physical disabilities, suggest activities such as doing puzzles, playing board games, or preparing a meal or dessert. Teens may be interested in history and may enjoy making a family tree, writing a family cookbook, or making a video of the family member’s life. Gardening, in which a senior family member instructs the younger person, can help them find a common ground. Finally, reading aloud can improve a child’s vocabulary and be very entertaining for an aging relative.
- If your parent has dementia, it may be harder for your child to interact. You shouldn’t depend on a young person to keep an elder safe. But there are still things they can do together. Look through photo albums, sing songs, or play with a pet—if you don’t have your own, a visit from a neighbor’s pet can be very uplifting.
- Remember that a youngster can also have a lot to share. Computer skills, for example, come easily to many kids. They can teach how to store and look at photos, how to do Internet searches, and how to use email—which can open up a whole new life for a senior.
Re-evaluate as Necessary
As you embark on this journey, be willing to modify your goals as you see what works and what doesn’t. These relationships can provide many benefits to both seniors and young people and can give you, the family caregiver, some greatly needed peace of mind—even joy—as you watch the relationship develop and grow.