My life is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’d like it better if it was a BLT or even a neatly tiered clubhouse – but alas, the components of my life are sticky and squished together, just like PB&J. I’m part of what is now termed the ‘sandwich generation.’
Eight years ago, my mother came to B.C. to live with us after battling breast cancer. Although I have three older brothers, as the youngest and only female sibling, I became the primary caregiver for mom.
My husband and I have five children with two remaining at home, ages six and eight. We both have demanding professional careers, as ordained ministers in the Salvation Army.
The phenomenon of women who are ‘sandwiched’ between the responsibilities of caring for both kids and parents is becoming more and more common.
According to Stats Canada, working women give twice as many hours per month to elder care as their male counterparts. They also do it while balancing the demands of full-time work, growing children – and, for some, even grandchildren. Spending time with my mom can be rich and rewarding; but it’s not always easy, especially with young kids around the house.
I recently found my toddler son and grand-daughter playing with my mother’s dentures, and her Polident! That was a hair-raising experience. I’ve also discovered that it’s not a good idea to send your teenage son to the store for Depends (incontinence pads). We also had to buy mom a new walker, as the boys had been riding it and pulled the brake cables out.
Some have suggested I should put my mother in a nursing home. However, we’re not ready for that, and I’m not sure we ever will be.
Of course, for many, having parents live with them just isn’t an option for a host of good reasons. However, no matter how we express love and care for our aging parents, we can ask what God says about it.
The Bible speaks of parents as worthy of our deepest appreciation and respect, with various verses:“Parents are the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6). “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Leviticus 19:32). “Honour your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (I Timothy 5:4).
So what’s a daughter to do, if you find yourself in a similar situation? I have some suggestions:
- Set aside regular time to be alone with God. He is able to renew your strength.
- Seek the approval and support of your spouse when providing elder care.
- Pay attention to your own needs, and schedule time for yourself.
- Don’t go it alone. Find out what resources are available in your community. We have home care support twice a day to help look after my mom’s personal needs.
- Lower your standards on housekeeping. We hired someone to come in while we’re at work, to stay with mom and do light cleaning for us.
- Call on other family members. I used a hefty dose of guilt to get my brother to come and stay with mom last year, so I could have a holiday. Although living in the sandwich generation is difficult, my life would be so much more stressful and uncertain without my mother. I’m thankful for the remaining precious time I can spend with my mom. Who knows how much longer we have? Together, with God’s help, we can navigate whatever life brings our way.
Some helpful resources:
- Barbara Dean: Caring for Your Aging Parents: When Love Is Not Enough, Navpress, 1989
- Betty Benson Robertson: Changing Places – A Christian’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, Beacon Hill Press, 2003
- Richard P. Johnson: Caring for Aging Parents – Straight Answers that Help You Serve Their Needs Without Ignoring Your Own, Concordia, 1995
Kathie Chiu is a mother of five and a Nana to 6 grandchildren, who works for The Salvation Army as a pastor & executive director of a residential ministry to the homeless. www.sheeptalesandkneedlesoup.blogspot.com