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When Should You Involve the Kids in Caregiving?

The quality of your relationship with your parent will make the difference


Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

Editor’s note: This is the 15th in the Next Avenue “When Should You…” series on aging milestones for parents or loved ones. With our partners at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, we address common caregiving concerns.)

If you are a card-carrying member of the Sandwich Generation — working outside of the home, caring for your family (which may include young children or “boomerangers”) and for an older parent, as well — your children could be a big help in taking some of the burden off your shoulders. As an added bonus, they could have a memorable experience with their grandparents by becoming important members of your caregiving team.

The operative word here, however, is could. And the relationship both you and your children have with your parent is an important factor in whether they should be.

The Past Is Key

There must be a positive history between your child and your parent.

“To expect a child to automatically have positive feelings towards a person they may barely know is not realistic,” says Judy Verba, a licensed social worker at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland.

For your child, whether she or he is young or an adult, becoming part of the caregiver team is going to provide a lifetime’s worth of memories.

In addition, the relationship between you and your parent must be good. “Children pick up a lot of their feelings about a grandparent — and about what caregiving is all about, too — from their parent,” says Verba. “If your feelings and attitudes are positive, your child’s probably will be, too.”

You also need to take into consideration the age, maturity and ability of the child and where that ability could, and should, be best utilized. Adding your daughter or son to the caregiver team may just mean helping you — doing household chores, taking a sibling to soccer practice, picking up family prescriptions — so you can focus on your aging loved one and maybe have some “me” time. Or it could mean your child will be doing things for his or her grandparent — reading granddad the local paper, doing nana’s laundry, mopping the kitchen floor.

“Either way,” says Verba, “having them on the caregiver team lessens your stress.”

Sometimes Grandparent Caregiving Is Not Going to Work

Even when children and grandparents seem to have good personal relationships, that may not translate into  good caregiving relationships. The latter isn’t just based on children’s maturity and ability to provide help, it’s based on grandparents’ willingness to accept their help.

“Sometimes,” says Verba, “they just aren’t open to anyone else providing help.  Or they are in denial that they even need help. Things change, however. What may not work now may work in the future.”

A Win for Everyone

When everyone is on the same page, however, having your child on your caregiver team is a win-win-win:

For you, it lessens the stress — both physical and emotional — that often comes with being a caregiver. And, adds Verba, “Ideally, it also means you’ll be able to spend more quality time — not just attending to responsibilities and tasks — with your parent.”

For your parent, it provides the keep-you-young mental stimulation that comes with interacting with someone from a different generation. It also provides opportunities for all kinds of cross-generational attention, affection and activities — everything from helping with homework to cooking together to sitting on the couch watching Star Wars — that wouldn’t otherwise take place.

In addition, early on, this provides opportunities for grandparents to do some caring, too.

“While they may not be as active as they were, or may have some cognitive issues, they are going to be 100 percent there for [the younger person], and give them hugs and compliments and other things, so that they are both getting something positive out of the situation,” says Verba.

For your child, whether she or he is young or an adult, becoming part of the caregiver team is going to provide a lifetime’s worth of memories.

And it provides children with a front row seat to see what aging and caregiving are all about.

“Not only will they see what getting old is like…and  how people change and accommodate to the changes that come with aging,” says Verba, “they will also experience the kind of personal and intimate relationship with their grandparent that you hope — if the situation arises — they will have with you, too.”

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