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Caring for Parents and Children Requires Distinctive Strategies

"Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle again".

Caring For Parents Versus Caring For Children - 10 Ways They Differ

By Marlo Sollitto

Nearly 10 million boomers are now raising kids while at the same time, caring for at least one aging parent, according to the Pew Research Center reports. The term "Sandwich Generation" is used to describe this demographic, and lots has been written on it.

But what is not as frequently discussed, is that the strategies and techniques that are effective when caring for parents are very different from those that work well with children.

Here are 10 ways that caring for parents differs from caring for children:

1. Emotions

Emotions come into play in both care giving scenarios, but the emotions are often different. Whereas raising a child is filled with moments of joy and satisfaction, caring for your parents is often accompanied by feelings of sadness and even denial. "You grew up being taken care of by your parents. Now, you're taking care of them. People tend to underestimate how emotional that role reversal can be," says Andrea Cohen, CEO of HouseWorks home care. "It brings up emotions that people didn't think about; that they're not prepared for." The key is to talk about how you're feeling with family and friends, or with a qualified therapist.

2. Logistics

Children live with you from the moment they leave the hospital, usually until they go away to college. But with aging parents, the logistics are clearly different. There may be a move involved. Or, the caregiver must think through how they will coordinate care for a family member who lives out of town, or even state. There are many different living options to consider, and so many issues that arise. For instance, most elderly do not want to leave their home, even if living there unassisted is no longer safe. The caregiver may not be aware of what's really going on, because it's typical for elderly to mask problems or symptoms, for fear of being forced to leave their home.

3. Intellect

"Debating a child is a far cry from debating your parent," Cohen says. "It's hard to argue with a parent who you've been parented by all your life." Cohen has several recommendations if your parent is "fighting you tooth and nail." One solution is to work with a geriatric care manager, who can assess the situation and make recommendations. Often, parents will listen to an objective third parent before they listen to their child, even though you have their best interests in mind. For the same reason, asking your parent's doctor to speak with them can be helpful. Another technique Cohen recommends: Having a conversation with your parents early on, in their 60s, versus in their 70s or 80s.

4. Aging Process

Children are actually more predictable than the elderly, Cohen says. "You know at 1 year, they walk, at 2, they talk. But with parents, their health can change on a dime. Suddenly, the adult child is thrown into this world of care giving that they don't know anything about, and it's scary."

5. Financial

Caring for an elderly parent can be an unexpected expense. Some seniors planned ahead with long-term care insurance and such. Of course Medicare helps, but still too often, families are strapped with an unplanned financial strain. After all, it's hard to save for your parent's care when you're also saving for the kids' college. The good news is the financial world is coming up with solutions: Long-term care insurance, life settlements, guaranteed retirement incomes.

6. Siblings

Although they typically don't have much of a say in raising your children, siblings' votes do count when it comes to caring for parents. The situation is further complicated if some siblings live close to mom or dad, and others are out town. Resentment builds quickly when one sibling feels she is doing everything. Coordinating care among siblings is a difficult, but necessary task. This situation is one in with a third party can help: clinical social workers, geriatric care managers, and so on help the family coordinate care, and keep everyone informed.

7. Authority

Our whole lives, our parents have told us what to do, and most of the time, we listened. But in an elder care scenario, it's the child who is trying to tell the parent what to do, and can create unease and tension. But keep in mind, there may come a time when the child must speak legally and financially for the parent, so have power of attorney and other legal documents in place long before they are needed.

8. Complexities

When caring for an elderly parent, a whole new host of concerns and issues come into play: drug interactions, dementia, financial responsibility, and the list goes on. If the parent goes into an assisted living facility, adult children must be responsible for ensuring their parents are safe. Make sure the facility has the specialized services your parent needs, says Cohen, such as a dementia unit. If your parent enters the hospital, make sure you have an up-to-date list of all medications and non-prescription supplements your loved one is currently taking.

9. Quantity

While you can control the number of children you have, it is not as easy to control the numbers of elders you will be charged with caring for during your lifetime. With families extending through divorce and re-marriage, one person may care for as many as eight elders, including parents, in-laws and step-parents.

10. Work Issues

In addition to children of their own, many caregivers also have full-time jobs. Juggling responsibilities is tough. As the population increases, employees who are caring for elderly parents has become a productivity issues. As a result, employers are becoming more aware of the need for elder care provisions and benefits for their employees. There is a long way to go in this area, but inquire with you and your spouse's employer regarding elder care benefits. "Being a caregiver is tough," Cohen says.

"Being prepared, informed and organized can make the task a little easier," Cohen says.

For more articles on caring for aging and elderly parents, visit

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