The Surprising Gift of Raising Kids While Caregiving
When I was a kid, I pictured my future 34-year-old self as taller and hopefully more confident, working my dream job, and, to put it simply - dazzling the world with my accomplishments and charm. Kids have enviable imaginations, don't they?
Even so, I could not have imagined that when I actually turned 34 I would be a full-time caregiver for my mom with Alzheimer's and also raising my three young children under the same roof.
Being a millennial caregiver is challenging in many ways. In the past nine months since my mom came to live with us, I have also observed some of the sweet and surprising benefits of juggling both - raising kids while caregiving.
Kids can brighten the mood
Having upbeat kids around all the time lightens the mood. Caregiving for a parent is stressful no matter what, but when your kids are talking in silly voices and giggling about poop, it can take the pressure off.
My mom and I share a lot of laughs about the funny things the kids are constantly doing. It has a grounding effect for me. Reminding me that I can pause from the seriousness of life for a second and laugh alongside them.
Routines and schedules benefit young and old
Kids require elaborate and exacting schedules. My toddler has regular eating and sleeping times and my bigger kids have school pickups, homework time, and chores.
All of our normal routines benefit my mom too. She knows that dinner is at 5:00 pm. Afterward, the kids' bath and bedtime routine. That is her cue to go to her suite - what we call her rather large room, walk-in closet, and bathroom - kick up her feet, and watch her favorite television shows. Jeopardy, anyone?
Mom's schedule and routine
My mom now has her own schedule as well, which includes exercise classes at the gym almost every morning, Zoom meetings with old and new friends, shopping, and errands. She doesn't drive anymore so even a simple schedule for her takes a lot of coordinating.
Calendars, calendars for everyone
I keep track of everything with calendars for everyone, both digital and analog, so we never forget a doctor's appointment or gymnastics pickup. My mom and I both find peace having it clearly spelled out on the fridge and our phone calendars. I'm thankful that Mom's routine and our own family's routine can coexist and complement each other.
Kids can be dementia-friendly communicators
Like most children, mine are loud and talk a lot. It can sometimes get overwhelming, don't get me wrong, but I have also come to appreciate how the many conversations of tiny people create a stimulating environment for my mom - and give me a little help with this particular caregiving burden.
All people handle dementia differently but one of the first signs of dementia that we noticed was my sweet mom who used to talk to me for hours became very quiet. At first, we thought it was because she was living alone or grieving the sudden loss of my dad. But then we saw the personality we had known her to have her whole life - bright, skilled, persuasive, and deeply involved in the world around her - drastically change.
We now had to initiate almost every conversation, remind her of people and things that had been important to her all her life, and remain patient when she couldn't keep up the speed and accuracy we were used to her maintaining.
Kids don't bend to awkward silence
As her caregiver, it can be challenging to wonder what to say in the long silences and tense moments. As an introvert, it is exhausting having to be the conversation starter every time. And as her daughter, it is painfully sad in those moments because I am grieving the mom I used to have and the person she used to be.
But my kids have no problem talking non-stop and at a level that is easy to understand for Mom. They don't talk about current events or complicated topics that are challenging for her. They also don't mind repeating what they said. They aren't bothered when my mom responds in a way that highlights her confusion. They haven't heard her stories a million times. They are patient and gracious in a way that only children can be sometimes.
And when it gets too noisy or tiring, she can always retreat to her suite for some peace and quiet.
Raising kids while caregiving
As a kid, I could not have imagined how hard it would be to be part of the sandwich generation at age 34. I also could not imagine how much having young kids still in the house would come to help me as a caregiver. It is still not all roses but my kids help me see that I don't need to worry so much. I can let some things go and still take great care of my mom. My mom helps me step back and appreciate how sweet this time is with my kids and how fast it all goes. We need both.
Would you like to talk to others in the Alzheimer's community about millennial caregiving? Reach out in our forums.
Does humor help you cope?