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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Joins the 'Sandwich Generation'

By Heather Forsgren Weaver
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2010 – Heather Forsgren Weaver of American Forces Press Service, is a regular contributor to Family Matters. Heather's been heavily involved in this blog from the start. She edits, helps write and posts content on a daily basis.

In this blog, Heather writes about lessons she's learning as she begins to care for her aging parents from two time zones away.

Caught in the Middle

Recently, I got the phone call that every daughter, or son, dreads. "Dad's in the hospital," my brother told me. Within hours, I was on an airplane to Utah.

When I started my journey, I thought I was all alone in my quest to get to my sick father as quickly as possible. I was wrong. I met two other women, one on the plane, and one on the airport shuttle, who were on the same mission.

As I talked to these women, I realized we are now part of the "Sandwich Generation." No, we don't eat peanut butter & jelly for every meal. Rather, we are caught in the middle between caring for our children and our aging parents.

In my case, I don't have two-legged children instead I have a four-legged English bulldog. Even so, I find myself more often these days juggling between my life in Virginia, which includes my bulldog, and my parents in Utah and my in-laws in New Jersey.

I am blessed because I have a husband and siblings who share this responsibility. But this was not the first time that my Dad had been hospitalized this year, so it was time for me to be "on the ground" as opposed to handling things long-distance.

I am happy to report that Dad's going to be fine, even though he is in for more tests. But because I was "on the ground," I was able to have some long conversations with my parents – conversations that as a daughter I didn't really want to have.

Military OneSource has some helpful information for these situations. I wish I had a chance to review the information before I left for Utah.

For example, I found these great tips on how to start discussing difficult issues with older relatives. In my case, it is my parents, but it could be an aunt, uncle or even a neighbor. I thought I would share them with you.

--Listen to your relative at least as much as you talk. It can be easy to fall into the trap of talking too much, especially if you're discussing a difficult topic and feeling a little nervous yourself. Remember, conversation is a two-way street.

--Be as positive as possible. Try to make constructive suggestions instead of blameful or negative statements.

--Remember that your relative still needs to make decisions about his or her own life.

--Be patient. Allow enough time for your relative to complete his thoughts without interruption. Some older people need extra time to express themselves.

--Try to set aside a quiet place to talk, ideally during the time of day when your relative is feeling at their best and there are no distractions.

--From time to time in your conversation, repeat what you think you heard your relative say. This will show that you’ve been listening and will help make sure you've understood what they said.

--If your relative is feeling afraid or anxious, don't try to minimize his fears.

--Never argue. Realize that each of you may have differences in your approach to a problem or how you feel about it. Try to talk about those differences without criticizing each other.

--If your relative resists the help you suggest, ask that he try it for a limited time—for your sake. But, be aware they may just be telling you what you want to hear when they have no intention of following through.

--See if a trusted friend or neighbor, especially one who has a similar problem and is already getting assistance, can encourage your older relative to try it.

--You might talk to your older relative's doctor about your concerns, or to a member of the clergy. Sometimes a person is more open to advice from a respected figure outside the family.

--If you're really having problems discussing something, slow down, and leave it for another day.

Remember, people have the right to make what you think are poor decisions. Unless your relative is declared legally incompetent, your role is to help, listen, make suggestions, and get your relative needed services and information.

You may disagree with something your relative has decided, or you may be frustrated that your relative won't agree to a change, but the final decision isn't yours.

Since I am just starting down this road, I welcome any comments and suggestions from fellow members of the Sandwich Generation.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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