The term "sandwich generation" is used to describe middle-aged adults (primarily 45- to 54-year-olds) who have elderly parents and dependent children. Based on this, I'm living a triple-decker club life. With a grade school grandson, a high schooler, and one of our three 20something sons living under one roof with us, plus my 70plus mother in a nursing home close by, and my in-laws across the street, my husband and I are firmly pressed in on all sides.
According to an AARP report, we're not alone. Forty-four percent of people our age have at least one living parent and one child under age 21. Approximately 7 percent live in a household containing 3 generations—oneself, one's parents or in-laws, and one's children. Parents my age are often paying for college expenses. At the same time, they may be footing the bill for significant medical expenses, running errands, and transporting aging parents to frequent doctor visits. Longer life spans (77.8 years is the average life expectancy) and couples waiting later to start their families have created a care-giving scenario that few families are prepared to manage.
I know. I'm one of those families.
Somewhere between my third and fourth son, my mother went from being my caregiver—the woman I called when I needed moral support and advice for raising our kids—to me and my siblings being hers. After a series of unfortunate events, my mom's health took a nose dive and she was no longer able to care for herself. My dad long gone (he died when I was 19), my siblings and I were left to pick up the pieces of our mom's new Medicaid life while simultaneously picking up pieces of board games and Lego sets. I now realize that at the same time I had been reading What to Expect When You're Expecting, I should have been giving equal time to aging-parenting books.
In her article, "What Shall We Do With Mother" (in the digital resource titled "The Sandwich Generation," from TodaysChristianWomanStore.com), author Virginia Stem Owens shares how she and her parents had prepared for their inevitable death but, like most of us, had failed to prepare for her parents' decline.
Preparing for the "long goodbye," as Stem Owens calls it, has been on my mind a lot these days. After having lost my father when he was only 46, I feel blessed that we've had our mom for as many years as we have. What I'm becoming keenly aware of, though, is that with each new health crisis she faces, she becomes less able to do what she could do before. I've added words like "palliative care" to my vocabulary, and I've looked up unfamiliar medical terms and diagnoses on WebMD more times than I can count.
Meanwhile, in between visits to her nursing home, we've been helping our grandson with homework, teaching our 16-year-old how to drive, and helping one of our sons fill out financial aid forms for college. We will likely live in the grip of competing seasons of life for many more years.
Being part of the sandwich generation isn't a demographic I aspired to, but it's where I find myself: "pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed . . . perplexed, but not driven to despair" (2 Corinthians 4:8). It feels like motherhood2. I suspect many women will relate to this.
You might also relate to Jen Pollock Michel's poignant story about learning and relearning to love her mother. Not all of us are fortunate to have a steady stream of happy mommy memories. For some, our mother-daughter relationships feel more like a long journey on a road called forgiveness. I have yet to meet a woman who hasn't felt at some point the confusing conflict of love and hate toward the same woman who gave her life.
Paul Pastor, self-described as a "real, live, former boy," reflects on the way he was raised in an open letter to his mom. In raising his own sons, Paul considers the things his mom did right, and what he hopes to improve on as he brings up his two young sons.
Some of us wrestle through relationships we have with our own mothers. But for many women, the greater battle is in coming to terms with possibly never becoming a mother. Mary Bellus, art director for TCW, set aside her graphic art tools to write about why she skips church on Mother's Day. It's a sensitive reminder that Mother's Day can be a holiday laden with emotion and meaning that extends beyond just honoring our own mothers.
May you experience peace and grace this Mother's Day.
Marian V. Liautaud