About a year ago, my dad’s wife left him and my siblings and I found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a sandwich. As I mentioned before, we are part of the “sandwich generation.” I really love a good sandwich, but the sandwich generation is a generation of people caught raising their young children and taking care of ailing, aging parents.
I have a 2-year old girl, my sister has a 4- and 6-year old, and my brother has 2-, 4-, and a 6-year old. We are of a group of college-educated 30-somethings who chose to go on to higher education, delayed starting a family, and really enjoyed their 20’s. The vast majority of our friends are in the same genre, and the vast majority of us are beginning to deal with aging and even dying parents. I am just not sure this is the way it should be.
Any of you who are parents or have seen a close friend or relative become parents are aware of how really difficult parenting can be. Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. I believe it takes a strong constitution and an immense amount of patience to be a good parent. I want to be a good parent. And I know many of you know the challenges of taking care of an aging, ailing parent. I want to be there for my dad. But how do you succeed when you are, in effect, doing both at the same time?
My brother called me last night to share that my dad’s neighbor had called with concerns about a decline in his functioning (ie putting soup on his plate not in his bowl). We were discussing getting the home health care in place as soon as possible all the while I can hear my daughter screaming through the monitor. I had put her to bed about a half an hour earlier, but she is going through a stage of not wanting to sleep and instead screams her little head off. Moms out there now how this noise pierces the heart and disrupts any ability to focus. But, my brother needed to give me the information and make a plan to address my dad’s decline. Sandwich time rears it’s very unattractive face!
Don’t worry, my daughter didn’t scream for long and my brother got heard (not that you were concerned about my brother). But do you see how unnatural this is? On a daily basis, I can’t possibly take care of my daughter (which I believe is my biological priority) and take care of my father’s health as well. I believe the “unnaturalness” of it all is evident in how little I want to deal with the everyday stress of meeting his needs. This is my biology saying “no, no, no!”
If we retrace life and the directions it takes us, one could say the unnatural part was my parents not making their marriage work. Had they stayed together, my mom would be doing this all — with our support, of course. I could also say it was unnatural for his second wife to leave a husband who has Alzheimer’s (which it is, but I won’t go there because marriage is hard, and I doubt her staying would have been beneficial to him in the long run). Really, my choice to get an advanced degree and wait until near the END of my childbearing years is probably one of the more unnatural aspects of this scenario. I am 36 and, when I have my next child, I will be “Advanced Maternal Age” – which is abbreviated AMA also the abbreviation of Against Medical Advice – coincidence? Yes, I know it is a coincidence but for the sake of irony…. Our bodies were not meant to have kids so late in life.
Any way you look at it, it is not natural for people IN OUR CULTURE to be raising small children and be responsible for their father’s well-being. This is the time in life when grandparents are supposed to be making the burden of parenting a little lighter on their kids – being spoiling, pampering, intrusive grandparents!
I say OUR CULTURE because in plenty of other places in the world families stay in one home, support each other throughout life, and are prepared to care for their elderly in the home. I feel our country, or maybe just those in my socio-economic stratum, is moving/has moved in a backwards direction. Philisophically, I believe in women’s rights (I wear my feminism badge proudly), and I believe in self-determination and education, but are any of us looking at how our choices are effecting the long-term viability of the human race? Okay, I am getting deep here and maybe I am taking my load of stress and turning it into an existential crisis, but I truly believe that there is a more “natural” way of doing things and that we are busy fighting this in the name of progress.
I don’t want to be the loser in the natural selection process!