If your schedule includes caring for an ailing parent while raising your children, you are part of the “sandwich generation.”

Between caring for your spouse and children and caring for your parents and in-laws, there you are —sandwiched right between.

It’s just as grueling as it sounds.

Being a caregiver for your parent and being a mother yourself considerably burdens your time, energy, health, and finances. It also can put a strain on your marriage and relationships with your children.

When the physical or mental health of a parent starts to fail, it’s a natural instinct to want to come to the rescue. After all, your parents have cared for you during the course of your life.

“Most often women want to roll up their sleeves and actively care for the parent and the men are typically more involved in the decision-making process with minimal day-to-day active care for the parent,” said Melanie Willis, a registered nurse and part-owner of Blessing at Home, an agency in Jena that provides in-home assistance and daily activities for adults with disabilities across seven parishes in north and central Louisiana.

Moving into that caregiver role, however, often puts your own physical and mental health at risk. Fortunately, there’s help out there if you know where to look.

Consider your local Council on Aging. For three dollars, senior residents of Red River Parish, for example, can eat a complete, nutritious meal that includes dessert, drink, and fellowship.

A sandwich mother has peace of mind knowing that her parent is receiving a nutritious meal she didn’t have to pre-plan for and that is cost effective.

Janell Thomley, a registered nurse and administrator of the Senior Adult Care Department of the Red River Council on Aging, stresses the importance of maintaining and enhancing the social well-being of your aging parent. Benefits are physical, mental and emotional health.

Nothing, she said, benefits them more than a good meal with good company.

In addition to the meal, the adult care program provides transportation to and from the care facility, the grocery store and the library. Fun activities such as bingo, ping pong, crafts, and exercise make senior adults and their families happy to start their day.

“We want the woman who cares for her ailing parent, her ailing spouse, as well as her grandchildren in her home and all families searching for the right fit to find peace in what we offer,” Thomley said.

Joy Liner is a 44-year-old single mother of four from Shreveport. She is balancing managing her own family with caring for her 77-year-old father, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

Liner knows all too well about the ever-changing atmosphere of her home and the toll it takes on her personal time and energy level.

“Caring for my dad, even though I love him dearly is taxing, lonesome and very upsetting,” Liner said.

“In terms of society’s norms, the responsibility to care for parents tends to fall on the women. It almost becomes engrained as our responsibility.”

That’s true, according to an AARP finding which claims 80 percent of long-term care in the United States is done by informal caregivers, mostly women.

“Women in the sandwich generation often try to do it all,” explains Claudia Fine, executive vice president and chief professional officer at Senior Bridge, a professional geriatric care management company. “It’s difficult to juggle working, childcare, marriage, and now parent care and impossible to do well.”

“Then, when you don’t do it well it leaves you with a sense of not feeling good or competent, and perhaps even guilty. We know these kinds of stressors also contribute to mental health problems and physical problems, such as hypertension, overeating, being too busy to exercise and simply not attending to your own needs.”

If just being a woman of the sandwich generation isn’t enough stress to bear, a prominent issue to be aware of when caring for an aging parent, aunt or uncle, or even a friend who has no family to step in as their caregiver, is the possibility the level of attention you are giving to your parent can make your spouse and children feel abandoned, angry or resentful, even though they love the parent in need of care.

In this case, family counseling or designated family time could prove helpful.

To help alleviate time and energy spent on directing the necessary life changes that happen to sandwich generation women, it is extremely important to be proactive.

Mary Rountree, executive director of Caddo Council on Aging recommends:

• Make sure the senior has a power of attorney, a will and living will. This is so important, especially before they have memory loss, etc. They cannot do a power of attorney after they begin to have Alzheimer’s.

• Make sure the power of attorney is just one person. Sometimes seniors put two children on it, and this can create a problem later.

• The senior needs to have one place in the home where they put all the necessary information for the children if something happens. For instance, a listing of insurance, bank accounts, burial plans, wills, mortgages etc. should be placed in a drawer. Many seniors are very private about these matters so they need to let the caregiver know where the information is kept in case of emergency.

Agonizing over whether parents should move in or enter an assisted-living facility or a nursing home is a complex decision that has emotional, physical and financial costs — and no easy answers.

Some things to consider asking before your parents or in-laws actually need geriatric care include:

•What are my parent’s plans and desires? Specifically, focus on their financial situation and desires for medical care.

•Do I need to add on, remodel or just renovate if one or both parents need to move in with my family? Specifically consider privacy, safety, and care.

•What kind of insurance coverage do my parents have?

•What will this cost me? Consider the long-term care cost if they remain at their house and, don’t assume the lowest cost option is providing care yourself, a recent survey by Agingcare.com indicates that approximately 34 million Americans are personally providing care and 34 percent of those caregivers are spending 300 dollars or more a month of their own money.

Before you are sandwiched into a new lifestyle be proactive.