“Sandwich Generation: noun. A generation of people, typically in their 30’s and 40’s, responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents.”
In other words, one of the most stressful times in a young adult’s life. A mom recently said it best after she had spoken with her own mother on the phone: “Doesn’t she see I’m drowning?!”
Oh, those years were stressful. I was working, raising three kids and trying to be a good wife, friend, aunt, volunteer, etc. Plus, I had a mom who lived alone and a father who had had a stroke and needed me to drive him to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments.
I remember looking at my husband one day and saying, “Tell me what I have to do to be committed to a home and I will do it.” I was serious. I wanted a cozy bed and meals delivered. I needed a break.
To add to the stress, my mom was the queen of guilt and I admit (shamefully) that every time I heard her voice on the other end of the phone, I died a little inside. Every conversation included things she needed me to do for her and ways I was letting her down. And, because she lived quite a distance from my house, it wasn’t an easy task to “pop” over whenever she wanted me to.
I vowed to never put that kind of pressure on my own kids. But, now I am the aging and ill parent and I understand that what my mom was really saying was that she was lonely, she needed help and she was more than a little sad about losing her once vibrant life. And, sadly her needs came at a time when “I was drowning”.
Times were also different back then. My mother never used a computer in her life. It would have made my life and hers so much easier if we’d had today’s technology available. Here’s what I mean:
- Whenever my mom ran out of a random food item, she used to call immediately to tell me. If we’d had the technology, I could have ordered it online and paid to have it delivered to her door and it would have taken five minutes of my time (instead of hours).
- My kids have created a private online group and added me to it. Daily, they post photos and videos of the grandkids, send jokes and share about their lives. It’s perfect! They can do it at their convenience and I can stay connected with them without disturbing their busy lives.
- Recently, my grandkids were in a spring concert and I was too ill to go. My sweet son-in-law called me on a video chat and held up his phone through the entire concert so I could watch it. It meant the world to me.
- I have marked my kids as “favorites” on Facebook so I am notified whenever they add a new photo. It’s another wonderful way to stay connected.
- Whenever I mention something that I wish existed, my son somehow finds it and has it sent to me (left-handed garden shears?!).
- My kids are adventurous and I love it when they text me photos of what they’re doing. I may not be able to do those things anymore, but I can enjoy them vicariously.
- The internet alone gives me access to friends and family, beautiful art, interesting information, and so much more. How much happier my mom would have been if she had had that connection to the world.
Of course, even without technology, there are wonderful ways to stay connected:
- It doesn’t matter if your parents (or grandparents) live in the same town, they will love receiving snail mail from you, especially if you tuck in some of the grandkids’ drawings. And, it only takes a stamp and a moment of your time.
And, sometimes a quick visit truly is needed:
- My eldest brings over take-out food and weeds the garden with me while her kids play in the dirt. It’s a win for everyone.
- My middle daughter and I love old movies. She and I drink tea and eat salads while we watch Judy Garland sing and dance.
- My son introduces me to the weird foods he loves. And, my sons-in-law are generous with their hugs and their time.
To those of you who are part of the sandwich generation: Remember that what your parents really mean when they whine for your attention is that they’re lonely. Growing older can be scary, especially when you’re dealing with illness and limitations. And, most of all, they’re saying that they love and miss you. They really won’t be around forever. And, sometimes (like in my own situation) they’re taken from you so quickly it takes your breath away.
And, to those of us who are the aging parent part of the sandwich: Respect the fact that your kids are in the very busiest season of their lives. Help them find ways to support you without instilling guilt and be appreciative of what time they do give you. You’ll see them a lot more often!