Friday, May 11, 2007

Mother, daughter, grandmother, granddaughter - trying to do it all

In Dr. Mike Magee's presentation at the recent Center for Aging Services Technology (CAST) conference (of which Eric Dishman, a Principle Research Scientist at Intel, is Chairman) he talks about the coming aging of America as a challenge not just of people living longer, but of the family expanding from 3 generations to 5 or 6. The 3rd generation woman is rapidly becoming the “new” sandwich person – stuck between caregiving issues with her mother AND grandmother; her child AND grandchild.

Wendy, a program manager in our office, is a classic “new” sandwich member. She helps her mother provide care to her grandmother, who fell and broke her hip about 6 months ago and refuses to go into a supportive living community even though she requires around the clock care. Wendy’s mom has quit her own job to help care for grandma; hired caregivers round out the day.

Meanwhile, Wendy has 2 children, one of whom is married with a 3 year old son and another child on the way.

To say that Wendy is busy with family support issues is an understatement. Wendy says her two biggest issues being in the super-squished position are TIME and EMOTIONAL/PHYSICAL ENERGY. Here’s what Wendy has to say about her life today:

Your kids move-out (more or less); you are among the 40+ crowd and life looks GOOD!

Having gotten married at a young age and immediately starting a family this is the first time you don't have the major responsibility of someone else's life. You are cruising along, you take a new job you are excited to be able to - for the first time - throw yourself into a job/career without feeling guilty because you should be home when the kids get home from school or you sneak out of work to make that all-important game. It is essentially a new start, a new beginning and it looks exciting.

Hold it!

I receive a phone call from the "help I've fallen and can't get up" company that monitors my grandmother so she can remain at home independently.

Yup, she's fallen and broken a hip. The cycle begins for full-time in-home care. Because she can afford it, it makes perfect sense to her.

However she lacks the ability to understand the management of such a task. My mom, her daughter (who has never in her life worked a full time job or has ever been in a job where her responsibilities were managing people, medical care, and finances) is now faced with all of them.

Since I have experience in all, she calls me.

If only it were that easy.

Mom has two siblings. I can make suggestions and recommendations based on my experience and my mother understands, agrees and respects my knowledge.

Her siblings cannot get past the fact that I am no longer the snot-nosed little kid who wanted to play in the dirt with boys rather than play Barbie's with the other female cousins.

In their eyes I think I will remain 10 years old forever. I know nothing, and the battle begins.

Now we work at how creative my mother and I can become in her suggestions (which are really mine) and convince the other decision-makers of the right choices.

Then there are the calls: “The caregiver didn't show up - can you help take care of grandma?”

I want to help grandma. I want to help my mom. Sure I can help.

Hold it!

My son, who is a young father, has just gotten a new job. A really good job. They offer over-time on Saturdays!

"Sure would be a great way to get ahead, Mom," he tells me.

His wife already works Saturdays in trade for Mondays off to be able to spend more time with their 2 year-old son.

Here it comes....”Can you baby-sit?”

I want to; I love spending time with my grandson - I want to help my kids "get ahead." Sure I can help.

Hold it!

My daughter calls from college.

"Mom, I'd like to move home for 4 months and go to school near home until next fall. Can you help?"

She is the most independent young woman I know. She doesn't ask for help often. I want to help my daughter; she deserves my help as she has likely been put on the back burner for the last few months. Sure I can help.

Hold it!
Attempt to maintain a marriage through this? Have friends? Throw myself into my job? Nice idea.

I often feel as though there is not even close to enough of me to go around. My mom stops by to have me help complete some paperwork from the physician’s office. We walk into the kitchen where the light is better.

I look up at her – “Wow, Mom, when did you get old? You look really tired,” I think to myself.

It’s 9:15 p.m. and she is just on her way home after a full day of caring for grandma. I immediately think to myself, “I need to help more.”

On Saturday afternoon my son and his wife stop by to pick up their son. My daughter-in-law is 7 months pregnant. I look at them and think to myself, “They are amazing kids; they're doing so well.”

I look into their eyes, both of them, and wonder, “When did you grow up? You look really tired.”

I need to help more.

This is a glimpse of the sandwich generation. I could go on and on but there’s just not enough time...

1 comment:

  1. I so, so, so understand! I was 23 when I started "caring" for my mom after my dad died and she developed Parkinson's. I had just started my own family and would soon have three children under the age of 5. We cruised along quite awhile, but at 38, I was at my mom's or she was at our house all the time--she was also in and out of the hospital, had stopped driving (I took her on all her dr. appointments and errands), and she had exhausted her extended community of family, church and friends.
    That's when I became her full-time caregiver.
    I know about tired eyes...

    And now, I help other caregivers. I'm on the other side. My mother's "passed over," and as I speak at conferences, support groups, and seminars, I see those women and men who are "doing it all," and are wrung completely out.
    YES. It's time to get help! I learned to tried to do it all too much of the time. Accept help. Seek out your community support systems--you may have more than you realize.
    As much as I wanted to be an example to my own daughters--to care for my mom--I realized in the end, I was also their example on how to care for yourself, too.
    ~Carol D. O'Dell
    author of MOTHERING MOTHER: A Daughter's Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir
    available on Amazon