The Sandwich Generation: Raising Children & Caring for Aging Parents
When I became a new mother five years ago, I imagined that I would be welcomed with nurturing arms into a special inner circle of women who shared secrets, comforted each other and held one another up when they were feeling insecure. I had heard so many friends ramble on about how beautiful motherhood was. How full of joy and sunshine and laughter it was! I thought, of course, this also meant that motherhood was about connections and camaraderie and lifelong friendships. You might imagine my surprise when I was hit with severe post-partum depression after the birth of my daughter, and felt terrified and lonely and inadequate. How ashamed I felt when I began to doubt my essence as a woman because everyone else around me was smiling ear-to-ear with two babies on their hips (breastfeeding flawlessly, finishing their PhDs and wearing their pre-baby designer jeans). It was so confusing to me when I sat in a circle of new mommies and would voice sadness and frustration that I seemed to be blocked by robotic stares and programmed responses that made me feel like I was the only one who couldn’t manage being a new mom.
My only outlet was to turn to blogging. Oh, and did I blog. My mother was shocked by my rawness and willingness to expose all of my emotions and feelings. Through my writing voice, I began to feel braver in speaking up with other moms and began to realize that there were others out there who were just waiting for an opportunity to share their uncertainty in a safe place. I felt good that I was able to create that feeling of security for a few women.
Fast forward to today. I have been rattled by an awkward feeling of déjà vu as I enter into the realm of caring for aging parents. My folks are independent – my father still owns his own business and my mom putters around with friends – but they are an old 68. After 44 years of marriage, they are a bit jaded, set in their ways and resistant to change. I recently helped them sell their home and buy a new home in a 55+ community, and my eyes were instantly opened to their diminished confidence, lack of financial aptitude, ease of confusion and need for advocacy. Seemingly overnight, I transformed from daughter to caretaker and assumed a second full-time job in helping them navigate the road to retirement.
As I searched for answers and help, I was disappointed to come up empty-handed. Perhaps I was naive to think that dealing with the elderly would somehow be different than caring for newborns, but I started to feel like a new mom all over again. Outside of close family members, I found very few people who were willing to talk about how caring for aging parents was hard. Certainly no one seemed to want to address that they might be experiencing the “sandwich” phenomenon with hesitation, resistance, and (quite frankly) a lot of tears.
So, here I am back at square one. Blogging for myself and for others, hoping that sharing my stories of being a mom, a professional, a wife, and a daughter, will bring a little humor, a little honesty, and a little safety to a topic that is more than a little difficult. As I come off a weekend where I simultaneously managed a two-hour tantrum, got the dogs out to pee, wrapped a present for a birthday party, changed the laundry, cleaned crushed pretzels off the floor, explained to my mother how to use her new ceiling fan, comforted my sister as she cried about my parents living so far away, and cheerily wrote an email to my husband asking when exactly he’d be home from his boys’ weekend, I think you’ll see it’s not hard for me to come up with material. And that we probably have a lot in common.