A couple of weeks ago, I spent the morning helping my son move into an apartment for his sophomore year at college. Later that same day, I went to the grocery store to do the shopping for my 95-year-old mother-in-law and helped her take out her trash and fold her sheets. The next day, my husband and I drove three hours to visit my own parents and help them with some tasks that they used to be able to handle on their own— things like fixing a sink and hooking up a printer.
Put it all together, and I do believe this makes us official members of the “sandwich generation,” sandwiched between being responsible for our almost-grown kids and our aging parents.
It’s kind of a tricky place to be. I mean, one of the things that gets a mom through the sense of loss and sadness of the impending empty nest phase is imagining all the newfound freedoms that we assume will come with it… Dreams of spontaneous weekend getaways, downsizing to a smaller home, and spending retirement years wintering in the south were sometimes the only things that kept me sane when I tried to cope with the thoughts about my babies moving out…
But it’s tough to pick up and leave for the winter, or even a weekend, when your parent lives on their own but can no longer drive… And it’s not a good time to think about downsizing if you worry that you might need to care for a parent in your own home someday…
And yet, we want to care for them. They were there for us through all of our ups and downs as we grew. They put up with us as colicky babies and tantrum-throwing toddlers and obnoxious know-it-all teenagers… The least we can do is show them even a fraction of the love, care, and patience that they’ve shown us from the day they brought us into the world.
Still, I think it is okay to admit that this stage of life can be pretty stressful. By this point, you may have figured out how to successfully juggle the demands of parenthood and a job and maintaining a home and a marriage… But as our parents come to depend on us more, we’re tossing at least one more “responsibility” ball and one more “worry” ball into the mix, and suddenly “juggling” turns into “struggling.”
For those of us who find ourselves in the “sandwich generation,” whether you’re a full-time caregiver or assisting a parent who lives independently, I think the best thing we can do is seek outside help whenever possible:
- Split up some of the responsibilities with siblings and other family members.
- Look into support groups that might be helpful; many retirement communities or hospitals provide support groups for people caring for people with specific conditions, like Alzheimer’s or cancer or diabetes; churches also can be a good resource for support groups. It can feel uplifting just to talk to other people who are dealing with the same thing.
- Finally, hire outside help whenever feasible; hiring a professional cleaner like Immaculate Clean can take one thing off of your plate—and when you’re already juggling so much, having one less thing to worry about can make a world of difference.