Posts Tagged children

I am sandwich – hear me squish!

The Sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance. US Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

Carol Abaya categorized the different scenarios involved in being a part of the sandwich generation.

  • Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
  • Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
  • Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care. [1]

Merriam-Webster officially added the term to its dictionary in July 2006.

The term “sandwich generation” was coined by Dorothy A Miller in 1981. (Thanks to Wikipedia)

Being a “sandwich” is nothing new.  Since we stopped leaving our elders out on an ice block or out in the desert (whatever) and instead they became part of the extended family – which once upon a time was the norm – adult children in some way or another have been taking care of their parents while having their own families to tend to.  As you can see from the definition above, the term “sandwich generation” wasn’t coined until 1981.

What I didn’t know was that there was a menu for the sandwiches and wouldn’t you just know it, I’ve been all three! Well wasn’t I just the blue plate special 🙂  Raising children is a job; caring for aging parents/grandparents is a bigger job; doing both at the same time is just ridiculous!  My appointment book was filled with go to school events for one child or the other, go to care plan meeting for parent/s, doctor appointments for myself, take car in for tune up, go to store and buy clothes for children and parents, sometimes go to store to buy something for myself, get school supplies for children, get Depends for mom because what the nursing home provided was horrible, catch up on what I missed at work when I had to cut out to take care of an emergency with mom, pay parents bills and my own bills, and on and on and on.

There is just nothing so exciting as getting a phone call at work or home about a family emergency and you aren’t sure if you want it to be a child or the loved one you are caring for.

To be honest, I think I preferred getting a call about a child because I knew how to handle them much better than my parents even if they did something incredibly stupid like getting injured in gym trying to show off or throwing up in school and needing to come home.  But getting a call about my parents always sent me into a mild panic because I was still learning about what their ailments where and how serious was serious.  Give me a your son has a fever come and get him any day over your mother fell.  Falling with Alzheimer’s and being in your 80’s is never ever good!

With my children I went in with them to the doctor (that is until they got into their teens then it was embarrassing to them so I stopped) but I had to have all sorts of legal documents to go into the doctors office with my parents.  Well, Dad could handle things by himself for a long time there but with mom I had to show them my power of attorney papers which got old after awhile.  One time when she was taken by ambulance to the ER injured and probably terrified, they wouldn’t let me in to see her in triage until they got her settled.  Not a good thing for me and mom to go through.

“You get her settled? She has Alzheimer’s you twits! (I used a much stronger word at the time) She can’t talk to you or answer any questions and you are probably scaring her to death!”  But they wouldn’t let me go back to be with her for a long time. I had to pace in the waiting room like a caged animal.  I was angry beyond words.  I did all of this while calling up my sister to come out and be with me, calling the then spouse to let him know I might not be home for awhile and dinner was his problem, and leaving voice messages on the kids (at this time they were older teens) phones that grandma was hurt and I was at the ER with her.  Thank God for cell phones!

Later, after the emergency was over, I made it my purpose in life to give that hospital a stern piece of my mind – very stern.  I made sure I talked to the President of the hospital and let him know what happened in his ER and I wasn’t going to have that ever again.  End of story? I got a nice letter from them apologizing and stating that anytime mom had to be in that hospital I was to be allowed right in there with her.  Sometimes in order to care for your loved one you have to put on your hobnail boots and get ready to kick some butt!

Funny picture that, a squished sandwich wearing hobnailed boots….

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I pulled the short straw…or did I?

It happens in every family of someone with dementia, someone eventually becomes the primary person responsible for the one with the disease.  I’m not talking about spouses, I’m talking about when the parent must be cared for by a child or the children.   In my case daddy tried to take care of (and hide what was happening) with mom until he couldn’t handle it anymore mentally and physically.  He became seriously ill too which resulted in my being a caregiver to two – but more about that later.

If you are an only child well then it’s pretty much a done deal but what about when there are other siblings?  In my case there were five of us still alive when mom first became ill.  Two lived out of town and the rest of us lived in town with mom.  My two older sisters were both squeamish about nursing homes and hospitals with one of them helping me out off and on.

My two older sisters no longer had children to care for in their homes while I, the baby of the family, had one in elementary, one in junior high, a job, and a marriage that was slowly but steadily working it’s way to divorce.  The Ex did help me out sometimes; I will give him that.

Not only was I a member of the sandwich generation (caring for both children and parents) I felt like the sandwich at the bottom of the lunch bag with a big apple. a Twinkie, and a thermos on top of it.

Looking back on things now I can say that I think it was a combination of my siblings either not wanting to for who knows what reasons (maybe because dad was my father and their stepfather) or not being able to help more in taking care of mom. They did help out when and how they could but you know who got the brunt of it.

The two out of town siblings would sometimes come home for visits and help out with one eventually moving back after she retired.  As much as I didn’t get along with that sister who moved back home, she was good at helping me by going to visit mom in the nursing home so that I could have a break or go on vacation and not panic.  I appreciated and needed that!

But many many times I was alone battling for mom and dad against the diseases that were claiming their lives as well as dealing with the bills, taxes, insurance companies, medical facilities, and the government when it came to their care.  The amount of paperwork that had to be done to get benefits for them? Ugh!  I got into trouble one year because I was confused about net vs. gross income.  At least they took their money back by reducing dad’s VA check until the overpayment was re-paid.  They gave me that option and I ran with it.

That’s just how it goes in many families; some are able to work out how to do the caregiving fairly while in other families it can get downright ugly.   Regardless of who is the primary caregiver, if it’s your job it is not an easy one but it must be done…and you can do it with or without the extra help.  Trust me, you can.

So did I pull the short straw or not?

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