Forgive me for whining. Today finds me a super-stretched, trapped-in-the-middle, poster child for the Sandwich Generation. Where once I reveled in my super powers as selfless nurturer, now I realize all my love and devotion is not enough to control or cure or even alleviate the burdens carried by the generations before and after me. For this Thanksgiving, I want just one thing: To feel neither worried nor guilty for one whole day.
Don’t misunderstand, I love either end of those in this tug of war painful amounts. It’s the crushing responsibility of simultaneously managing them all that’s draining me. My 90-year-old father, a man whose only medication is a preventative baby aspirin, has developed dementia. His wife has emphysema and macular degeneration and arranging care for them has me flying back and forth to Florida, lately on a few hours notice. My mother-in-law has been hospitalized three times in the last four months. Cellulitis, pneumonia, congestive heart failure… the litany of medical emergencies is familiar to anyone with aging parents.
One daughter left a super successful career (in her parents’ eyes at least) to pursue her passion…stand-up comedy. There is no more excruciating location for a mother than a seat in the audience at a comedy club where her baby tries to make drunken strangers laugh. Her sister, who lives in New Jersey, is pregnant with her second child. Soon I’ll be babysitting for two of the most beautiful children in the world twice a week when she returns to work.
I feel like an amateur unprepared for the physical and mental challenges of this stage. I don’t remember my parents worrying that they didn’t do enough, didn’t sacrifice enough for my grandparents. It was a time when chronic situations inevitably led to the end of life expectancy, not the disabling conditions that today can last for years. Most of my friends have arranged extended care insurance policies and prepared legal papers so that our kids won’t be forced to deal with the kinds of issues we’re struggling with.
Although parents have always taken care of children and children have then been expected to take care of parents, shifting demographics and a revolution in child rearing practices have altered that cycle. From the moment I married at 20, my mother and father never heard about any of my problems, personal or financial. My silence protected us both. Baby boomers fostered a more intense bond with their children. Now the connection I share with my daughters allows for the whole truth and nothing but…honest, fulfilling… and exhausting.
In 2006, “The Sandwich Generation” made its way into the Merriam Webster dictionary for the first time. With older Americans becoming the fastest growing segment of the population, with almost 10 million of us caring for parents long distance, and nearly two thirds of those under 60 thinking they will have elder care responsibilities in the next decade, we’re all bound to sometimes feel like we aren’t meeting anyone’s needs in the way that they would like. Especially not our own.
Most of us will work harder to do the right thing by our families than either our parents did or our children will. After years of constantly hearing how fortunate we Baby Boomers are, maybe this is an unexplored dark side. So on the days I feel hard and mean and overwhelmed, I will focus and remember that who I am and what I’m worth is all about family and that I am trying my best. It’s not easy being in the middle. But even though I whine, I know I am blessed. After all, this is life. And that’s what Thanksgiving – and every day – is really about.