Club Sandwich Generation
by Ferida Wolff
I am a member of what is called the sandwich generation. I became a grandmother recently. My daughter gave birth to a beautiful, bright-eyed little boy. My friends told me that I would be in grandparent bliss. All I had to do was return the baby alive and let the parents take care of the discipline, crankiness, eating problems, and all the other things parents worry about. Only this incredible little being turned out to be a night person, not sleeping much and not allowing his parents enough rest to have sufficient energy resources to cope. So I went on a rescue mission to offer time off which our daughter and son-in-law gratefully accepted — not to go dancing but to get a few hours of sleep. I talk with them frequently, affirming their good parenting and reminding them of our love and confidence. They are the younger layer of my generational sandwich.
The usual older layer that would complete the sandwich is a parent who needs care. But now that people are living longer, there tends to be more than one parent that requires care, and often two sides of the family, with each person needing either physical or emotional support or both.
My father used to be that part of my sandwich. He was living by himself in an assisted living facility after my mother died five years ago. And then, because of a series of falls, he needed live-in care. My sister and I found him a wonderful aide and just as I felt I could breath a little easier, my husband’s parents started a round of hospital stays. Dizziness, upset stomach, pneumonia, falls, Parkinson’s, and finally, a broken hip. Not unusual for people in their nineties. I am becoming familiar with the rehab centers in our area.
Because I am the one whose career is most flexible, I tend to be called on for care more often. I am sandwiched between my daughter and my father and my father and my in-laws. More of a club sandwich than a mere pastrami on rye.
I don’t begrudge helping but there are days when I find evening approaching and whatever I had on my to-do list has to be carried over to the next day, which would be fine if that day’s docket were clear; it rarely is. I just double up or let some things go. Often the things I let go are the ones I would do for myself. A haircut appointment can easily be postponed, as can a get-together with a friend or a walk with my sister.
Personal habits change, too. A shower is as good as a bath, though not as relaxing. My morning meditation is shifted to the afternoon but occasionally ends up as a power nap because as soon as I get into a rare peaceful state I fall asleep. And sleep itself becomes a luxury. I find myself awakening with concerns on my mind: Will Mom regain her balance or be confined to a wheelchair? When will the baby start sleeping at night? Should I encourage my father to be more active or let him sit in his room watching quiz shows all day, as he says he prefers?
The boundaries of my roles are dissolving with no clear-cut guidelines to take their place. The rules of infant care are different from when I was a young mother. Back then babies were put to sleep on their stomachs, now it is tantamount to child abuse if babies aren’t laid down on their backs. Do you pat to burp or rub? I check with my daughter rather than have her check with me, which seems to be an inversion of the traditional Grandma function.
And how should I interact with the elders of the family who are losing their memories and abilities? How much should I intervene in their lives when they are wobbling in and out of clarity? I ponder how to be respectful and responsible at the same time. They don’t welcome help — after all, they are the parents — even as they ask for it.
A family dinner requires orchestration. Four generations at the table demands a certain degree of dexterity. What time should the meal be served so that no one’s naptime is imposed upon? When is the baby least fussy? Who will pick up my in-laws, who my dad? Wheelchairs are needed to get to the car, walkers to navigate in the house. Pills have to be administered on schedule, the baby to be nursed, various bedtimes to be considered.
I admit to a bit of stress.
But when this newest member of the clan looks at me with adoring eyes or my mother-in-law thanks me for getting her groceries, it makes it easier for me to accept my place in the middle. I am not just a grandmother or a daughter, I am a vital part of the club sandwich generation.
Ferida Wolff has been exploring the terrain of the self for over thirty years. She has an MS in Education and holds a certificate in Holistic Studies. As a teacher of Hatha Yoga, she helped her students focus on and listen to their inner messages.
Ferida Wolff is a frequent contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She is also the author of The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge and 16 books for children. Visit her website www.feridawolff.com