Have you ever passed your husband’s car in your neighborhood and paused to throw a pack of Depends from one car to the other? Does your teen’s driving practice consist of driving to the assisted living facility and home? Could you pass both the pediatrics and gerontology medical board exams without attending medical school? If you answered “yes” to all three questions, you are probably a “sandwich” mom.
Even though I had my daughter relatively late in life, I figured I would escape being a “sandwich” mom – one who is simultaneously caring for children and elderly parents. My parents had married and had me at a very young age, so I assumed my daughter would be grown and I would be old myself before I had to help care for them. I neglected to factor in that my husband’s parents were almost as old as my grandparents. I will most likely have a few years where I try to balance the needs of my daughter and my in-laws.
Although I have only been walking this walk for less than a year now, I have gotten some very helpful advice from others who have finished this journey. I pass it on to you in hopes that it will encourage you as it has me.
I think the hardest parts of being a “sandwich” mom are the absolute exhaustion, the guilt that something is always sliding and the roller coaster effect of the entire journey. In the last two weeks for example, I have a mother-in-law who had a stroke which meant several hospital days and now in- patient re-hab. This means I now have to drive to the assisted living facility three times a day to give medicine to my father-in-law who has Alzheimer’s. I have had a care plan meeting, quite a few bills of theirs I have had to straighten out, pharmacy and errand runs, etc. Meanwhile our wonderfully patient and helpful teenaged daughter has had finals, AP exams (we homeschool), extra-curricular activities and end of the year activities. Did I mention she also got her learner’s permit last week?
This week all of that continues while I scoot to another state to get their house ready to put on the market – packing up a house in less than three days! I know I am blessed that my in-laws can afford assisted living. It has been a godsend to our family. If you are caring for parents in your home, I can only imagine how much harder your life is! In fact, maybe you should stop reading this right now and go take a nap – I am sure you need one! I have a great support system and have been blessed to know other women who have walked in my shoes.
Perhaps the best piece of advice I have gotten so far is to get all of the help you possibly can with the senior citizens you are caring for. Contact AARP, a local gerontologist, a social worker or a good local assisted living facility. Talk to friends who have cared for elderly parents. The learning curve is pretty steep. There is a lot of help out there though, if you know how to tap into it. Much of it can be free or low cost under the right circumstances.
Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family to help during those weeks that are just overwhelming. Women who give birth to multiples will often call on others to help. You now have multiples, if you will, in often two different places. If you can get help on those overwhelming weeks, the more normal ones will be easier to handle. I am usually very independent, but I have learned I may not survive this time if I don’t get help occasionally.
The important thing to remember is that this is only a season in your life (or so I have been told!). Although it may seem like it will last for the rest of your life, this period of caring for both children and parents will end at some point. There will be some relaxing, happy, carefree days again in your future. I joke that mine may be at a sanitarium by the beach somewhere, but I do believe my life will eventually go back to my “normal” (which by the way was never really normal).
What I am about to say may sound very controversial to some of you, but those who have walked this walk will understand. Your first priority is your children. Your parents (or in-laws) have lived a life that has hopefully been full. You are still trying to raise and train your children to be godly, responsible future adults. As long as your parents are in a safe environment, your children have to take priority.
Now this doesn’t mean that I am suggesting you neglect elderly parents. God commands otherwise. I do know that sometimes elderly people (bless their hearts!) will make it seem as though their lives are dependent upon getting some want met immediately. A good friend constantly reminds me that my responsibility is only to make sure that my in-laws are safe and well-cared for. I cannot make them be happy. Contentment is a person’s personal choice as the Apostle Paul makes clear in his writings.
Many elderly people appear to be chronically unhappy. Now, I may be the same when I get that age, but I have met some who manage to stay up-beat despite multiple infirmities. Your mother may think that missing your child’s special assembly to get her a new night gown will make her happy, but it won’t. Your child, however, may be very hurt that you missed an important event in her life for an errand.
On the other hand, how you treat your parents or in-laws is showing your children the Bible in action. I know it is hard to be patient when there are so many demands on you. It seems like you are caring for everyone and no one is caring for you. God is only a prayer away though. He never tires of listening to his children when they are hurting. Read Psalms if you don’t believe me. I also pray for Him to multiply my time and show me what the godly priorities are for my day. Let your children see you pray or let them know when you are thankful because God has answered one of your prayers.
I have learned that it really helps to minimize the number of doctors involved and become close to the most necessary ones. They can help answer your questions and make important decisions. They and your local pharmacist can also help with information that can help you manage your time. They know if it is okay to sometimes skip a pill or what your windows are for times to give them. Sometimes having that extra 30 minutes you can get by delaying a medication can make all of the difference in your day. Just make sure a medical professional helps you make those decisions.
Don’t be afraid to ask for and take a break. I was blessed recently to have had an opportunity to chaperone my daughter on a trip out of the country. My husband had planned to join us for the first part of the trip. The trip had been planned before my in-laws moved here. Everyone assured us they would take care of my in-laws and for us to go on the trip. Since we were out of the country, it was easier to stay out of the care process. Everyone survived and I had a much needed break from constant crisis situations. Find some sort of back up system and even if you can only take a few hours off from caring for others – do it! You will last a lot longer and be healthier yourself.
Finally, try to take some times and create special memories for your family even while you are in this turbulent season. A friend of mine has been caring for a child with extremely severe CP and her mother-in-law for years now. I still do not know how she does it. Recently her daughter was married. My prayer for them was that the child with CP was well enough to attend the wedding so they could enjoy it as a family. God answered our prayers and I know that family will cherish the memory of that day for the rest of their lives.
I believe God tries to put a little joy in each and every day for us. Some way He reminds us of His love for us. A way for us to remember that our eternity will be a joyous one with Him in heaven. Try to look up from time to time and find that special little gift from God. Sometimes it may be a beautiful flower or a loving comment. On Saturday, mine was that my hair dresser was able to work me in for an emergency cut. Seems a little silly, but it reminded me that God really does love me and care about even the mundane things I need. I know if you love Him, God will put those little helps in your season of “sandwich” too. Just make sure you don’t miss them!