Research shows that in 2012, 47% of "middle-aged" adults (those 40-59) were simultaneously raising a minor child, or supporting a grown child, while caring for a parent 65 and over (PEW Research). Personally, I would say the statistics are much higher two years later. Growing up, even through my child-rearing years, I would NEVER have anticipated my role as the "meat/filling" for this family sandwich.
Here's how this new status, or calling, crept up on me: my dad passed away unexpectedly shortly after a single bypass surgery 33 years ago at the age of 57, leaving my mom a widow six days before her 50th birthday. Within the next year and a half, my younger (and only) sister and I got married leaving my newly widowed mother an empty-nester as well. It was HARD! We both lived close so we could help her as needed and to be together as a family as we began having our own children. Both our husbands were incredibly willing to help her whenever it was needed; our children loved spending time with her making memories to last a lifetime. She supported us through good times and bad...and believe me, there were some BAD times!
As with any family, there are trials that pile on top of each other and just throw your world into a spin that changes everything. Within a period of a few years, our close, extended family (three generations) went from close and happy to completely estranged. It was HARD! We missed our close family relationships and, most of all, our relationship with my mom and my kids' grandma.
Three years ago, my mom realized she couldn't live the way she was and, because of the impact my sister's choices had on her, cut off all ties with her. My mom needed help and, finally, she turned to me and my husband to help repair the damage.
During the "dark years," I had come to terms that I would never have a relationship again with my mom in this life. I was grateful for my belief and understanding of eternal life and the knowledge that there would be time to mend our relationship for the eternities. I was grateful for the chance to help her and to have her with us to experience life with my ever-growing family.
Now...to explain our (my husband's and my) role as the "Sandwich Generation." Over the past three years, my mom's health has declined with ailments not limited to congestive heart failure, diabetes, macular degeneration, mini-strokes, and dementia. We've watched an incredibly strong, happy woman who would do anything for anyone shrivel into a sad, miserable little old lady. There is little in this life that can/will make her happy. She's unable to care for herself physically or mentally so two years ago, we were forced to move her from her beloved home to a wonderful assisted living facility. I've been told that the "caregiver" is the target for all anger, frustration over her physical and mental decline, sadness at what her life has become. I never would have imagined being in a position of trying to do everything I could to make sure she's safe, cared for, and loved and yet it is NEVER enough! No matter what I do, it's not right or enough! I've been counseled millions of times to not take it personally...but that's hard when it's your mom throwing it all at you! It's HARD!!
Now, add to all of that the role of parenting adult children. I always thought having my children raised would make life easy! WRONG!! When they marry, your joy and heartache doubles. When they have children, your joy, worries, and concerns multiple exponentially! They are the joy and light of our lives...the true blessings of having (and surviving) children!
But...along with the joy and happiness, we have the worries...are they making it financially, are they making the right choices in life that will bring the greatest happiness, who will fix their car if it breaks down, are they being taken care of, etc., etc., etc. It's so hard to try to have a filter when offering "advice" to them; trying to remember what it was like when we were their age and didn't want to listen to our parents who thought they were so wise (we now know they were...it comes with age and experience).
And then...add the responsibilities of being a wife, a full-time teacher (or any other form of employment), a faithful member of any religion that encourages service and the responsibilities that come with a calling (I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), a woman who feels like her body is falling apart but also feels like she definitely isn't old enough for all those changes, and so on... IT'S OVERWHELMING!!!
So...how does one get through this age of being pulled in a million different directions by four generations??
Here are my thoughts...definitely not based on "research"...just experience:
First, realize you are only one person and you can only do what you can at any given point. This is something we should learn VERY early in life and cut ourselves a break when we're overwhelmed by it all! I LOVE Kamri's post about "The Competition." You don't have to please anyone but yourself and your Heavenly Father!
Second, get used to the idea that life "is what it is" and accept/embrace it. Even though there are MANY times when I just want to crawl in a hole, I know I can't. I just figure out what needs to be done first and move on down the list.
Third, surround yourself with resources to help get you through. I have been so blessed an AMAZING husband who is willing to step in and help me with my mom as if she were his own. (Honestly, I believe that if she had to choose between us, she would definitely pick him!) He's willing to drop everything to do whatever is needed, even if it's just to listen. I also have had MANY people placed in my life at just the right moment to help with whatever it is I'm facing...from a daughter who took a class from a prosecuting attorney two years before charges against my sister were filed, to working with another teacher who went through the process of applying for Medicaid for placement in an assisted living facility just a couple of months before I had to, to having a personal friend who also is/was Mom's primary care physician, to receiving the inspiration to call an incredible woman to serve in a church calling beside me who just happened to be a director over a home health company when I needed to sign Mom up for hospice. Add to that all the other amazing people who have been placed in my life to simply give love and support whenever I needed a shoulder to cry on, a hug, or a listening ear. YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT ALONE!!! IT'S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP! (That's been a really hard concept for me to grasp since I'm so stubborn, independent, and have such a hard time asking/accepting help!) However, the blessings I have received from reaching out have been life-changing!
Fourth, learn to say "NO" when it's just too much. Sometimes, I have to say NO to helping a neighbor. Sometimes, I have to say NO to going to visit Mom when I am so tired and overwhelmed I can't see straight. Sometimes, I just have to say NO with no reason at all.
And finally, take care of yourself! (This probably should be at the top of the list...) Get lost in a book, go shopping, go on a date with your sweetheart, take a nap, whatever lets you decompress and recharge! My hubby and I had planned a five-day mini-vacation all summer. The weekend before we were to leave, Mom had a lot of health problems that resulted in us asking for hospice. I didn't see how we could possibly leave her at that time...what if something happened and I wasn't there to take care of it or her? The guilt was OVERWHELMING!! After a lot of convincing by the hospice workers, the assisted living facility staff, and my own WONDERFUL children and their spouses promising to take care of her and everything associated with her, we went ahead with our plans. It was hard to be four to five hours away; but at the same time, we were ONLY four to five hours away. It ended up being a wonderful time for relaxing and getting the energy, physically and emotionally, to move forward. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF!!!
If there's one thing I've learned from all this, it's that you can NEVER predict what will be asked of you in this life. I've learned to do my best at being a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother and that's all I can do and all that anyone can ask of me. Even if you are not the "meat/filling" of the family sandwich, chances are you know or are related to someone who is. Be loving and supportive and realize she (or he) is doing all that's possible to be everything to everyone. It's becoming more common in families and it's HARD! But whoever said it would be easy?