Many single mothers are lodged between the demands and needs of aging parents and growing children as part of what is affectionately referred to as the “sandwich generation.”
This seemingly innocuous phrase fails to convey the incredible strain single mothers ages 35 to 54 endure, according to the American Psychological Association.
As a member of the sandwich generation — more like a hoagie if you ask me — I have been raising my son, Joseph, with little emotional support from his father and have been observing the gradual decline of my parents with each passing year.
Their bodies are more fragile making each step more deliberate.
They speak with greater hesitation or lose their train of thought more easily.
They endure unwelcome revelations into their growing list of limitations.
And their hearts are heavy with doubt and regret, especially in the quiet loneliness of the night.
Being a compassionate soul, I always make myself available to them — because I love and care about them.
However, the stress over and fear for their safety and well-being fall squarely on my shoulders because of the grievous absence of their son and other daughter.
Fortunately, my parents are in good physical and mental health for being in their 70s, but some of my coworkers are contending with parents in various stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Revelations of their struggles and their quests for solutions came to the fore during a recent Caregivers Meeting held at my work. This group gathers to support caregivers of babies, children, teens and aging parents through programming and a monthly newsletter I edit and write.
If you are a single parent who is also caring for aging parents or relatives, I hope you find the information originally published in the November and December newsletters useful as you plan your holidays and handle the attending stress.
Ways to create a low-stress holiday for people with Alzheimer’s
The holidays can be a distressing time for people with dementia. Changes in daily routines, guests coming and going, and increased stress and expectations can be taxing, creating new challenges for caregivers.
Caregivers should share appropriate health information about the individual with dementia with invited guests to inform their understanding of their loved one’s limitations and the progression of their dementia. This information will help them discuss with the caregiver how they can be supportive and what they should expect.
When planning a holiday gathering, caregivers may want to keep the group size small not only to control the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses but to make interactions between the person with dementia and guests less overwhelming and more manageable. Excessive noise and commotion, loud crowds, and rowdy children can cause confusion and agitation in a person with dementia.
If the person with dementia becomes confused and anxious with unfamiliar guests and routine changes, caregivers should establish a comfortable, private, quiet space whey they can escape from their perceived commotion.
Following are several activities that encourage interaction for people at varying phases of dementia:
- Signing cards. The caregiver and guests can discuss each recipient and their relationship with the person with dementia. The individual with dementia can also put stamps on the envelopes.
- Looking through photo albums. The caregiver and guests can point out family members and friends and their relationships and experiences with the person with dementia.
- Singing songs. This group activity involves the person with dementia in a moment of nostalgia and entertainment.
- Reading stories aloud. Some people with dementia may want to share stories with guests creating a family tradition or reinforcing an old one.
- Pre-measuring and pre-cutting ingredients for dishes. Under supervision, the person with dementia can help prepare parts of the meal.
- Set the table. Likewise, a person with dementia can assist with simple table dressing.
- Providing gifts. People with dementia may feel left out or embarrassed during a gift exchange if they do not have a gift to offer. Having those gifts ready can allow them to feel included.
- Decorating. This activity should be done with supervision and affords caregivers and the person with dementia to reflect on the decorations, their traditions, stories, and family and friends associated with them. Blinking lights should be avoided because they can cause irritation and confusion by disorienting a person with dementia.
Regardless of the activities, caregivers must consider building the daily routines of the person with dementia into the day and days leading up to the holiday. Doing so helps to reduce the individual’s stress. If the individual with dementia becomes frustrated, the caregiver should work with them to identify their unmet need.
Tips for handling the strain of caregiving
Despite their best efforts, caregivers may feel guilt and frustration, even more so during the holidays. These feelings are normal, but caregivers must remember only so much is in their control, and mistakes and problems are inevitable.
To survive the craziness daily living presents, caregivers should adjust their expectations and try to give themselves a break.
Following are some survival tips:
- Identify nonnegotiable tasks that must be done — and let the rest go.
- Get organized using lists and setting deadlines for tasks that can be completed over time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Use shortcuts, such as ordering a meal from a local store and shopping online.
- Sit back and enjoy your accomplishments with family members and friends.
- Watch a silly movie and enjoy a good laugh.
- Accept where you are in life and recognize what is really important.
- Communicate that you have a lot on your plate so your loved ones can have realistic expectations and offer to help.
- Forgive yourself for forgetting some of the frills and remind yourself that your health and sanity are more important.
- Take care of your body, mind and soul through healthy eating, exercise, journaling, getting plenty of sleep, meditation and relaxation of any kind.
Responding to the daily, evolving needs of children and aging parents can be overwhelming but following these suggestions can help you handle situations by being kind and patient with yourself.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent.
Starting the summer of 2021, my son, Joseph, is writing a monthly column titled In My Son’s Words where he describes his experiences as a teenager and as a child of a single parent.
Twice a month, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.