This post: My Teens Are Getting Older… And So Are My Parents
Written by: Marybeth Bock
It’s something parents of teens and young adults don’t talk about enough…
So many of us are at that pivotal (and stressful) time in our lives when we’re helping, guiding, and watching our teens and young adults come into their own and gain more independence, all while we’re doing our best to be there for our parents who are slowly become less independent.
If you get together with a group of parents of teens or young adults, you’re bound to hear about the concerns and struggles that so many of us currently facing.
I know for me, many of my friends and acquaintances’ parents have had heart attacks, needed hip-replacement surgery, or were diagnosed with osteoporosis, diabetes, or even dementia. Many are nearing their retirement years, making “empty nester” changes in their lives and trying to prepare themselves financially for the next chapter of their lives.
We’re Trying to Juggle Too Many Balls
For a lot of us, our parents – our once “pillars of strength” – are feeling the impact of their age and they’re leaning on us for support, guidance, help, and love.
And, of course, while we selflessly and lovingly jump in to be there and offer them the full support they need, their decline of independence happens to come at a time in our lives when we’re already maxed out emotionally and physically.
The truth is, raising teenagers to become good humans isn’t easy and most parents are already totally exhausted. Pile on the added demands (and stress) of caring for an aging parent and it can really take its toll.
Not only are we driving our kids to school, practice, get-togethers, and travel sports games, a lot of parents of teens are now driving their parents to doctor’s visits, the grocery store, salon appointments, and other errands. In the midst of making sure our kids are eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and making sure they’re keeping their stress in check from the demands of their lives, we’re now also making sure our parents are eating healthy, taking their vitamins and medicine, and checking in on them regularly to make sure they aren’t feeling lonely or isolated because getting out isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Whether our parents live down the street from us or they live states away, when we start to take on more responsibility for the daily care, health issues, finances or just offering them sheer emotional support, it requires a whole of time, patience, understanding, and love. Add that to the physical and mental load of raising our kids and it can send our stress levels soaring.
We Are the “Sandwich Generation”
The “sandwich generation” – the generation of people who find themselves caught between the responsibilities and concerns of caring for their aging parents and supporting their own kids – who often are in their teenage years.
Essentially, we’re “sandwiched” between two generations and often feel crushed by the extra worries and time commitments that drain us emotionally, physically, and psychologically during this stage of life.
My Personal Story…
I went through a true “sandwich generation” experience when my own father approached the end of his life. He had been suffering from dementia and his health had been deteriorating for several months when I got that call on an early August morning.
My sister called to tell me that I should get on a plane quickly because the doctors weren’t sure how much time my Dad had left. It was the week before my son was leaving for his first year of college and we still had so much dorm shopping and college preparation to do.
I dropped everything, leaving my son to manage the remainder of his college shopping and packing, and arrived just as my Dad passed away. At that time, I also found out my mom had breast cancer. I left several days later to get back home and help our son move into his dorm, saying yet another tearful goodbye to someone so dear to me.
In the ensuing weeks, I struggled with our newly empty nest, dealt with funeral preparations for my Dad, mourned with my Mom, and assisted her with figuring out her cancer treatment options and path moving forward.
At my father’s funeral, I felt so many conflicting emotions and was particularly sad that my daughter, who was studying abroad halfway around the world, couldn’t even be with us and her many aunts, uncles, and cousins, to celebrate my Dad’s life.
That episode is just one example of what so many of us are dealing with during these trying years. There are so many more stories I’m sure we could all share.
Working through the challenges of “the sandwich generation” years isn’t easy for any of us. Here are a few tips that I found helpful while I was navigating this complex role:
10 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) When Caring for Kids and Aging Parents
1. Open Communication is Vital
It’s so important to have open and honest communication with both your teenagers/young adults and your parents. Discuss conflicting expectations, needs, and possible challenges to avoid misunderstandings. When everyone is aware that there will be times of sacrifice and accommodating others’ needs, you can avoid a lot of hurt feelings.
2. Prevent Burnout by Putting Boundaries in Place and Seek Help If Needed
You’ll need to put a few boundaries in place to prevent burnout. It’s perfectly okay to say “no” and to seek help when you need it. Prioritize your own well-being and set realistic limits on what you can manage. Just remember, if you’re totally stressed and worn out to the core, you won’t be any good to anyone else.
3. Take Advantage of Available Resources
Research and utilize your community’s resources, such as support groups, home care services, meal delivery programs, and transportation services, to help ease some of your caregiving burdens. You may be surprised by the (often free) programs that are available. And when other family members, friends, or neighbors offer to help out, take them up on it to take the pressure off of you.
4. You Can’t Do It All… Prioritize What’s Important On Any Given Day
When you’re pulled in five different directions and your heart is aching because you feel the need to be everywhere at once, but simply can’t, go easy on yourself. Try to prioritize what’s important that day (or even that hour). It helps to put everything on one calendar that the entire family can share so your kids know you won’t (or will) be available on certain days or times. It can really help to see the appointments, schedules, and to-do lists in black and white and have the comfort of knowing everyone is on the same page.
5. Be Sure to Plan Ahead
Proactively plan for your family’s future needs, such as long-term care for your parents and educational or financial plans for your teens. Estate planning, wills, and power of attorney documents should be created and/or updated. This can save you a great deal of time and stress in the future!
6. Remember, This Is Hard on Your Kids and Parents, Too
When our parent’s health begins to fail or they need us to be more involved in their lives, it takes precious time away from our kids. And, when we’re driving our kids to sports, helping them with college applications or we’re just trying to keep up with the demands of day-to-day life, it takes time away from our parents. These years are hard on everyone. A little patience and grace can go a long way.
7. Find the Emotional Support You Need
Nothing can drain you more than combining a physically exhausting, hectic schedule with the emotional side of caring for teens AND aging parents. Seek emotional support through family, close friends who might be going through the same thing, therapy, and support groups. Having a safe space to express your feelings or a shoulder to lean on can be incredibly comforting when you’re trying to manage it all.
8. Keep the Family Close
Sometimes, our teens can feel left out in the cold while we’re busy caring for our parents. And, sometimes, our parents can feel isolated and alone while we try to keep the wheels in motion with our kids.
What works well is to have a weekly check-in with everyone via Zoom or FaceTime (or in person, if possible). Even if it’s just a 15-minute call, it can bring the family together to talk, share stories and updates, and just be together.
9. Don’t Forget to Take Care of YOU
As moms (and dads) we often put ourselves and our needs on the back burner to care for our families. But now, with the added responsibility of taking care of parents, we have to make a conscious effort to put ourselves and our needs much higher on our priority list.
Take time to exercise even if it means taking a nightly walk around the block to decompress. Eat healthy foods as much as possible, get enough sleep, and carve out time to do things you enjoy and that bring you peace. The risk of burnout is real during these years, so take loving care of yourself.
10. Look for the Beauty in It All
Some days may be a struggle but try to focus on the positive side of your role in your children’s and parent’s lives. Use this precious time to foster the bond with your parents and to fortify and nurture the relationship between your kids and their grandparents. Grandparents have so much wisdom, humor, and life experience to share!
For every mom and dad who’s going through this now, my heart goes out to you. I know it’s not easy. Just know, you’re not alone and so many others are facing the same challenges and stress you are.
Stay strong… the circle of life is both beautiful and painful. Find the beauty and positivity in it all and be grateful for the opportunity to give back to your parents all the love they’ve given to you.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
If you enjoyed reading, “My Teens Are Getting Older… And So Are My Parents,” you might also enjoy reading:
The Mental Load of Motherhood: The Side Our Family Never Sees
Trust Me, Mamas, Being “Too Sensitive” is Your Superpower
25 Nuggets of Motherly Wisdom I Want to Pass Along to My Teen