The Struggles and Rewards of ‘Sandwich Generation’ Caregiving

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by Ray Burow |

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I was several years into caregiving before realizing that my five children were also carers.

My mother was diagnosed with pre-Alzheimer’s disease before my youngest was born. My father was still alive, and he and my mother lived in a different part of the country. My mother was able to care for herself in those early days with the watchful eye of my father, but as the disease progressed and my father passed away, my sister and I were blessed to be her caregivers.

My sister lived close by, so it was practical for us to join forces, and our family’s guest room became “Granny’s room” when my sister, a registered nurse, had to work. Granny went back and forth between our homes, spending several days with us and then with my sister.

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It was a lovely arrangement, and our mother was comfortable with it. She didn’t mind schlepping back and forth between our homes because it was a practice when my father was living. They’d spend the day at my house with the grandkids, then head back home at the end of the day to spend evenings with my sister. She’d then spend several nights before making the trip back.

Exchange envy for gratefulness

In 2020, an estimated 1.3 million children were caregivers in the United States, a mind-boggling number. I hadn’t considered that my four daughters and son were members of that growing number in the early caregiving days. Hopefully, my sister and I carried the lion’s share, but my kids were integral to their grandmother’s daily experience, and I must say, she was essential to theirs.

Perhaps someone reading this column is deep into the “sandwich generation,” in which you’re caring for an elder while also caring for children. It’s not easy, but take it from someone who’s been there: In the long run, your children benefit.

I worried that my kids were missing out during the caregiving years because my attention was divided. Truthfully, I thought I was also missing out. Because my sister and I shared caregiving, I was able to make most of my children’s events, but an internal turmoil brewed. I wanted to be the mom driving the carpool, steeped in after-school and church activities.

Then one day, it hit me square between the eyes. I needed to count my blessings. Women, moms with children the same age as mine and for whom I had great respect, loved my kids, led their youth groups, had sleepovers, and were camp counselors. These women were doing all the things I wanted to do but often couldn’t because of caregiving.

I stopped envying them and became grateful, often remembering to thank these incredible women for giving to my kids during the occasions when I couldn’t. I changed my perspective.

Caregiving children are caring children

Additionally, I mourned my mother’s relationship with her grandchildren, especially the younger ones, who only knew their granny after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Again, I learned something valuable — my children, including the younger two, had a different yet wonderful relationship with their grandmother. They formed a beautiful relationship all on their own. My son, who was little more than a toddler during this time, used to scold me over his granny, telling me, “Mom, don’t tell Granny she can’t do that. She can do what she wants to do.”

Recently, I asked my son, who is about to graduate high school, what were some memories he had of his grandmother. I think it was then that I realized just how young a caregiver he was.

He said, “I was watching ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ and eating my Lucky Charms when Granny said, ‘Tell your mom I’ll be back. I am going to West Virginia.'” What’s hilarious is that my young son knew that Granny was about to walk away, and, sure enough, he alerted me that his grandmother would try to go to her hometown.

A similar situation occurred between my mother and her youngest granddaughter, who faked crying, knowing that her granny wouldn’t leave home if she cried and asked her to stay. Manipulative? Yes, but helpful. My mother often stopped the kids, hugged them, and said, “You know Granny loves you,” or “You’re Granny’s boy!” She loved them without reserve, and they loved her just as she was.

I wish my mother could see her boy graduate in May and the youngest granddaughter strut in her college graduation a month or two later, but they carry her in their hearts.

“Sandwich generation” caring isn’t easy, and sometimes it isn’t fun, but often it is. Learning to concentrate on the positive aspects is helpful. Give your children more credit during this time. They will adjust, love, and be better for it.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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