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John 17:13

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If you are so fortunate to have both children and parents to take care of, you are part of the sandwich generation. This means that you find yourself in the middle of, on the one side, children with all the responsibilities that come with raising them, and on the other hand, your parents who are by now becoming increasingly dependent on you.

With modern technology and medical development, people are living longer, get married and have children later which means that if you are middle aged you could very well find yourself taking care of children and parents.

Handling everyday issues
One of the reasons why people find it so difficult to deal with ageing parents, could be because of the fear (and the knowledge) that we will all follow in that same path. Seeing our parents getting older often acts as a prediction of what is waiting for us. Some of us become exceedingly worried and almost obsessed with helping them, while others will just choose to ignore the issue and hope it will go away.
Whether you become a nervous wreck about your parents or whether you bury your head in the sand, the fact remains that this is one of those social and personal issues in our lives that must be dealt with. When dealing with this it might be valuable to keep in mind that there are normally quite a few people involved. Not only is the safety and happiness of the grandparent paramount but also that of the rest of the close family.

Find the root of the problem
For this reason it could be wise to analyse and tackle the challenge the way we do with all problems. First determine the nature and extend of the issue. If Granddad is grumpy, it means that he is frustrated. Try to determine possible causes like physical pain, worries about independence, finances, physical strength, health and mobility, feeling helpless, possible depression, the side effects of medication, feeling unwanted and unloved or struggling with moral and religious issues.

Offer practical help
If a specific cause can be pin-pointed, it makes doing something about it much easier. Assist them with important decisions like making a will, joining a reliable medical aid fund, budgeting, managing pensions, investments, policies – this might go a long way in order to bring some peace of mind.

If the problem is physical by nature and they need support and assistance, help them organise that. Think twice before taking on the task of looking after Granddad yourself – there are many factors, people and relationships to take into account when making this decision. Investigate professional organisations that could assist.
Make sure that their health is taken care of and that they visit the doctor regularly and that medication is taken correctly and regularly. Scheduling regular medical examinations can bring peace of mind, not only for the grandparent but also for the caretaker.

Also look after Granddad’s or grandmom’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Staying in contact with family and friends, participating in social activities, staying mentally and intellectually active and stimulated will reduce the level of frustration. Arrange with someone to address religious and faith issues in order to put the aged mind at ease.

Thank God for your elderly parents
Whatever the cause may be, remember that all behaviour is motivated. If Granddad is grumpy and unpleasant there must be a reason for that. Finding and identifying that reason and doing something about it will make life easier for all involved. Make an effort to involve them in family activities so that they will also feel part of the family and not isolated and useless. Give them tasks and responsibilities that they can handle. This will ensure that they stay active, feel that they are noticed and it might also help you with your own burden of daily chores and responsibilities. Be grateful for the blessing of having grandparents around who can still support and motivate you and your children.

“Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” Proverbs 17: 6. 

Dr Dorothy du Plessis is a Family and Marriage Counsellor, Parenting Workshop Presenter and part-time lecturer at the ICP. For counselling or enquiries about studies in Christian Psychology call 011 827 7611011 827 7611.

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