Some say you truly become an adult when you bring a baby into your home. I say you truly become an adult when you bring an aging parent into your home.
“The Sandwich Generation,” they call us.
The expression is meant to convey the fact that we (the lunch meat? The PB&J?) are caught between taking care of our kids and our aging parents (Wonder Bread? Marble rye?).
It’s a succinct analogy, cute even. But comparing this situation to a sandwich makes it sound so simple and normal. Some may say a better comparison would be famed chef Julia Child’s most complicated, 21-ingredient recipe “Beef Bourguignon.” However, the “Beef Bourguignon Generation” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue now, does it?
According to the non-profit think tank “The Pew Research Center,” 47% of adults in their 40s and 50s are caught between taking care of their children and their parents, and the numbers continue to grow.
My father has been battling cancer in many forms and for many years. For the most part he’s done well and has managed fine with his care. This was in large part to my mother who helped him organize his appointments, medicine, etc. However, when she lost her own battle with cancer, the responsibility for my dad’s care fell on my sister and me.
As his age and his disease progressed, my sister and I made the decision that he would live with one of us for extended periods of time. Since I live closest to an exceptional health care facility, my dad came to live with me for a few months while he received chemotherapy. Suddenly I was not only caretaker, cook, taxi driver, nurse, and activity director to my two kids, but I had to become all of those things to my father as well.
Even at the age of 46, there is still a part of me that is “daddy’s little girl” and expects him to take care of me instead of the reverse.
There is a shift in your heart when the roles are reversed. It’s a subtle sadness that you can’t dwell on too long because neither your parent nor your kids wants to see you in that vulnerable state.
Your kids still have the luxury of thinking that for the most part you are invincible. You are “mom” after all and mom takes care of things. At the same time, your parent is struggling very hard to not become a “burden” to you.
It’s a balance of keeping all things together for all members involved. But lest I sound like I am complaining, let me assure you I’m not. Just as a parent cannot comprehend having as much love for a second child as they did for their first, when the second child arrives the love comes and expands. It’s the same thing when a parent is in your care. A heart is an amazing thing. It grows and grows and constantly leaves you in awe of its capacity.
When my kids refer to the guest room as “Grandpa’s Room” without thinking about it, my heart grows.
When my dad slips me $20 because I’m still his little girl, and “You don’t carry enough cash with you!” my heart grows.
When my 9-year-old snuggles up to her grandpa as he explains how superior black and white movies are to Technicolor movies, my heart grows.
When my teenager puts her beloved telephone down to make a model airplane with her grandpa, my heart grows.
So yes, having an aging parent live with you has its sorrows, stressors, and frustrations, and 21 other ingredients that make it seem like an insurmountable recipe for disaster. But when it all comes down to it, love makes it easy. Love makes it familiar. Love makes it simple…like a good sandwich.
Note: The author’s father passed away in April. The family was thankful for the time they had together with him.