What has changed most for you in the last 20 years? Chances are, it's to do with family: maybe you have started one, or you are caring for one. Maybe you have gained new family members or you have suffered a loss? It's possible you are in a blended family situation, a single parent one, or your family has a dual income. Like many of us, you might be part of the sandwich generation: caring for young children and older parents, or you may be reaching empty nest time.
Whatever the current status of your family, it is likely to be a very different one than it was in 1993. The United Nations observes an International Families Day every May 15, and this year is particularly special as it also marks the 20th anniversary of International Year of the Family. The UN has taken the opportunity to refocus its attention on the new challenges that families face in 2014 - and many ring true for today's families in the UK.
At the heart of these challenges is the issue of care. Certainly, the move to dual income families, longer working hours, long commute times and living further away from loved ones are all regular topics amongst today's families. We'd like to keep our careers going but how do we get to spend enough time with our children and other halves? We love our parents but when they live so far away, how can we support them and involve them in our lives?
Here are 4 strategies for keeping our families in balance.
1. Stay connected with the older generation - and keep the "care" conversation alive. With so many ways of staying in touch, a daily update to and from your family unit to your extended family is a tweet, post or Hangout away. By keeping in regular contact with your older relatives, they stay engaged and up to date with your children's lives and you can see what is changing in their's. Grandma not gone to her usual Book Club or Grandpa not walking the dog so much? Maybe it's time to have a conversation about their health and their care plans.
2. Teamwork is essential. At work, without colleagues things just don't get off the ground or completed in time. The same goes for your family life. Hire a professional to help you tackle the day to day business of running a household, and you will have more time for the important things. This also goes for the older generation. By helping them choose and hire, say, a gardener or housekeeper, you will be reassured that the heavier tasks are done for them and providing a gentle introduction to the concept of extra care for your relatives.
3. Take a break. Everyone with care responsibilities deserves time off. If you can manage this with a Saturday morning trip to the gym or a night off for date night using a babysitter, then go ahead and take the time you deserve.
4. Manage your care relationships wisely. This covers the routine trip to the dentist with your children, introducing yourself to your elderly relative's GP or ensuring that your family carer is kept up to date with your work and holiday plans, and paid on time. Use these professionals' expertise to inform your management of your family's health, wellbeing and ongoing care. Make sure everyone involved in the care of your precious unit knows that they are valued and their professional guidance welcome.
No matter where you are in the care cycle, the needs of families are unique and yet, we all face similar challenges at some point. Proactively planning your care needs is a critical component of helping your family remain a happy and successful one.