Between a Rock and a Hard Place in the Sandwich Generation

She says: There’s a great article about being in the Sandwich Generation in the September issue of Colorado Parent Sandwich Generationmagazine. Thomas and I are right there, categorized as being “between the ages of 35 and 54 who are simultaneously caring for children and aging parents.” Yup, that’s us. Further it says we “feel more stress than any other age group” and that this stress “impacts relationships with spouses and children, emotional wellbeing and health.” Yup, definitely us.

I’m the main caretaker of my mom who is in her late 80’s and living alone. Yes, the kids help out as does Thomas but he has his hands full (see below) so I try not to involve him if I don’t have to. As an only child, I don’t have another sibling I can call on to share the responsibilities or even just to commiserate with, which makes it really hard.

On top of a very full time job, a good portion of every week gets taken up with handling household and family stuff for our little family of six and now also for my mom, including taking her to doctors’ appointments and the grocery store. It also means being the bad guy like when I had to convince her that it was time for her to stop driving and that I was more than happy to take her wherever she needed to go. Neither of us really believed me.

And the frustration of having BOTH my children AND my mother ignore me when I advise them they need to do something that is good for them is just a special kind of torture!

Thomas and I are caught between the generations and I know our children look at the whole scene and hope, somehow, the situation won’t be repeated for them as we age (it probably will). And I am pretty sure our parents look at Thomas and I and feel awful that their lives have come to a point where they have to rely on their children. It’s not fun for anyone involved.

What has kind of helped is a recent realization we had that, at the core of the frustration Thomas and are both feeling, is our “child” selves looking at our parents thinking “don’t change, don’t get old, don’t leave.”

He says: A recent bike ride around the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Refuge offered me some surprising life lessons about being in the sandwich generation. The day was sunny with a steady breeze hitting my face, making the gently undulating terrain fairly challenging. On a particularly long climb, I was relieved to see the summit ahead. Surely on the other side would be an easy downhill?! Yet when I reached it, is was a “false summit”- there was actually an even higher hill ahead! The wind stiffened as I groaned onward. At the top of the true summit was a striking panorama of downtown Denver, prairie and the Rocky Mountains. Overhead a dark storm front was moving in as I enjoyed the view with a drink of water. The climb had been tough, but the view made the effort worthwhile.

The return journey was equally surprising. The wind had shifted and once again was in my face, instead of to my back as I had predicted. Even on the flats, a wind wall made the ride exhausting; it felt as though I was making no progress. My energy was waning as I had foolishly not packed any food. Taking frequent breaks, I persevered and slowly made it home. Completely spent, I collapsed on a lawn chair at home and reflected on the challenge of that ride. It struck me how it mirrored my life at this particular period.

Mom is gravely ill. Since she lives in another state the stress is compounded by having to take time off of work, pay for flights and associated expenses and be away from Courtney and the kids. Thankfully, I have family and long-time family friends who are sharing in my mom’s care, decisions and commiserating. (Having a support circle of others is crucial when you dealing with an aging and declining parent just as it is when you are parenting your own children!)

I remind myself of these lessons as I cope with parenting my children and infirm parent alike. May they help you, too!

  • Just when you think you are “there” and life will get easier, another hill to climb will surprise you.
  • Few things are predictable. Accept that life is constantly evolving in new unforeseen ways. Don’t despair, but instead remain flexible to manage the changes.
  • Not preparing makes things so much harder.
  • You are capable of so much more strength than you realize. But you will never know that until you push yourself and tackle the challenge. It will hurt. You will survive.

If you are dealing with taking care of your children and also your parents, and have found better ways to cope with it or just want to share your thoughts, feel free to do so below in the comment section.

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