Taking A Bite Out Of The Sandwich Generation

Siamese TwinsI spent weeks upon weeks researching a variety of topics relating to caring for our elderly parents. As important as it is to lovingly take care for our elderly aging parents, it is also a daunting task at best. While researching the various aspects and responsibilities involved with caring for elderly parents, I was surprised to find little information regarding the care of elderly parents who, due to their own personalities and tendencies, make it extremely difficult if not impossible to have the parent living in your home.

There is a vast array of information, including message boards, that discuss in great detail the importance of providing all the necessary medical attention to our parents, being sure that their medications are being taken, in the right amounts, and at the right times.There’s also much information on giving our elderly parents our time and attention, involving them in a variety of activities in and out of the home, being sure to create and allow for opportunities where our parent can assist with a variety of tasks, whether it be helping prepare or cook a meal, picking up around the house, gardening, etc.

There is also no shortage of posts on message boards and blogs alike wherein writers are barraged with respondents comments about how “unloving, uncaring, unappreciative” some writers supposedly are when commenting on the difficulties they face while fulfilling their responsibilities towards elderly parents.

Caring for Elderly Parents is a Family Responsibility

We will all be old one day. We all will want and need our children to help us, care for us, love us, be attentive towards us, help with our “needs”, when the time comes that we are deemed an “elderly parent.” We all hope that our children will render us this needed love and care, putting aside any old hurts or slights of the past. Unfortunately, some people choose to hold onto old memories of previous hurts and perhaps even devastating traumas from childhood, choosing not to forgive and forget, but continuing to hold it against their parent/parents as an excuse to forfeit their responsibilities towards their now elderly parent.

Often this leaves most, if not all, the responsibilities on another sibling to carry the heavy and oftentimes burdensome load of providing care for their parents. Some even go so far as to move away so as to make it appear that they “just live too far away”, when in reality they never intended to help in the first place.

Young Children Can Help Too

Although I do believe that the adult children carry primary responsibility to care for their elderly parents, I also believe there is much to be accomplished with the assistance of grandchildren with respect to their age and abilities. Making it a point to keep in close contact with their grandparents, making regular phone calls and visits, sending cards if for no reason other than to say, “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you”.

There is an abundance of opinion on whether to have elderly parents living with you in your home or a nursing home. Although this is a personal decision for each family, carefully considering all possibilities, the pro’s and con’s of such a venture, sometimes it is determined not to be in the best interests of the family as a whole. It is of this perspective and opinion that I write today.

On two separate occasions, lasting about a year and a half each time, my husband and I and his father lived together. Initially, we all lived together in my father in-law’s house. The floor plan provided private quarters for us, our room and bathroom on the opposite side of the house from his. Being newlyweds that believe in the premise of leave and cleave, we needed some time to be alone, to become accustomed to each other’s ways, and to settle into married life. My mother in-law had passed away in 1998, three years prior to my meeting my now-husband, having been married over fifty years to my father in-law. It quickly became apparent that having much time alone with my husband would be virtually impossible.

Over a period of time, I began to refer to my husband and his father as “Siamese Twins”, attached at the hip by an invisible umbilical cord. Every step my husband took, my father in-law was in close pursuit. It mattered not if my husband were going from the living room to the front door, from the kitchen to the den, from outside the house to inside the house, to or from the car. “Everywhere that Mary went, Mary went, Mary went…., everywhere that Mary went, her sheep was sure to go.”

Doing For Themselves If Capable

My father in-law is a capable man. He is capable of fixing himself something to eat, even if just a sandwich. But, he won’t. He wants and expects someone/anyone, preferably my husband, to do it for him, as my mother in-law had done for the many years of their marriage. This attitude did not sit well with me or my husband, as we firmly believe that my father in-law should do for himself what he is capable of and not expect to be catered to the rest of his life.

The energy and exertion expelled to go to the pantry and retrieve cookies, brownies, Ding-Dong’s etc, is better used slapping two slices of bread together, with cold-cuts and cheese in between. To suggest such an absurd notion inevitably leads to a staring contest, followed by his quick exit with sugar-coated goodies stuffed into both hands.

Maintaining privacy was often a matter of discord, as we would return home from work to find “evidence” that someone had been in our bedroom. Items moved around in dresser drawers, desk drawers, files disrupted. After several attempts to resolve these bothersome problems, we decided to move and got our own apartment.

A few months later my father in-law sold his house, and reluctantly moved in with his daughter, the eldest of the two children. For several months, phone calls were exchanged between my husband and his sister, with her explaining the same behaviors and problems we found to be so unbearable. It was creating problems for her family and marriage, as it had done to us, and we understood all too well what she was dealing with.

Strain On Marriages and Biblical Requirements

A few months later, my father in-law privately begged my husband to allow him to move back in with us, our having just bought a house with rooms to spare. Thinking my husband had experienced temporary insanity at the mere suggestion, I made my displeasure and disagreement crystal clear. Perhaps it was the fierce expression on my face; or perhaps it was my sounding like a screaming banshee; or maybe the sound of a door slamming behind me. Nevertheless, we discussed it when my blood pressure returned to normal, and determined we would allow my father in-law to move in with us again, only with some firm stipulations.

It was to be understood that although he would be living with us in our house, that he was to lead his own life, come and go as he pleased, go and do things/visit with friends etc, fix himself something to eat when hungry (unless we were obviously already preparing a family meal), clean up after himself, do his own laundry etc. But, no more catering to his wants and whims.

Need I continue? Ask any of my friends, co-workers or family, and they will tell you that I am normally “cool and collected” or “even-keeled”. It takes a lot to make me blow my stack, but if pushed to that point, look out. It didn’t take long at all to find that the attitude and behaviors were not going to change, that my father in-law would not follow any of the stipulations set for him.

My husband and I actually began timing how many minutes it would take before my father in-law would appear wherever we were, trying to have a private conversation. Two minutes maximum. I began to search for our marriage decree, so I could look to see if someone had secretly added my father in-law’s name to the marriage document next my husband’s name.

I normally was the first person to get home after work, and within a few minutes, my father in-law was checking his watch and looking to see if I was about to begin rattling pans in the kitchen, since he “hadn’t eaten all day long”. After finishing dinner, while my husband and I began to clean up the kitchen and load the dishwasher, my father in-law would inevitably make his quick exit to ‘parts unknown’, or right back in front of the television where he’d been all day.

Maintaining Privacy and Independent Living

Any attempt on our part to retrieve the remote and switch channels (it was always on some sort of sports show), would be met with heavy sighs and protests “I was watching that!”. We were guests in our own house. We continued to find that “someone” was rummaging in dresser drawers, private files in the office, and various other intrepid explorations throughout the house.

My father in-law is now eighty-four years young, and for the last year or so he’s been living in an Independent Living apartment on his own, a few short miles from our house. We visit him often, have him over for dinner often, pick him up and take him out to dinner often, have him over to spend the night every couple of weeks, but it’s never enough.

We filled his freezer with healthy, frozen meals, that he only needs to nuke in the microwave for a few minutes. They are all still there in his freezer, left untouched to this day. We keep him supplied with bread, cold-cuts, cheese, fruit, healthy cereals, etc, a fully-stocked refrigerator. Healthy, fresh foods rot and sit waiting for “someone” to throw it out. He is fully capable, physically capable, mentally capable, of fixing himself healthy meals. But, he won’t. A few days ago, he told me that he wants my husband to move in with HIM. That isn’t happening.

Further Reading-

Taking Care of Aging Parents as a Family

One Flesh In Marriage

Caring For Our Elderly Parents

(Photo by “Ratticus”)

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11 Responses to “Taking A Bite Out Of The Sandwich Generation”

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  1. Petercrys says:

    YOU HAVE SUCH A CREATIVE THINKING I LIKE THE BLOG. THEY ARE TRUELY GOOD QULITY AND FAR EXCELLENCE, CONGRATULATION TO YOU. KEEP IT UP. See Ya. . .

  2. Nourishing Relationships says:

    Your challenge is not easy – respecting your husband’s relationship with his father and wanting your marriage to grow, as it should. We all have a history with our own parents that makes it hard to draw the line. But you have some perspective and can share that with your husband in ways that will protect the interests of your marriage.

  3. sarah says:

    I have been in a similar situation. I moved my mother into my home as well, but I still had the worry about her being alone while I held down a fulltime job during the day. Our family physician told us about medical alarm systems and after researching a couple different systems we chose ResponseLINK. They provide 24 hour monitoring, with wonderful add on services to fit every worry I had. It was much more cost effective than hiring on a home care nurse or admitting my mother into adult day care while I was gone. The price was small compared to the peace of mind it brought me.

  4. Telling It Like It Is says:

    Sarah, I’m glad that worked for your situation. There are many varying circumstances one must deal with in caring for our elderly parents, and your suggestion is definitely one that works for some families. Thanks for mentioning it!

  5. Denise says:

    I am torn between what I am to do as a child of God regarding my earthly parents. My father is judgmental, bitter, opinionated and angry at himself for not being a better husband and father. My mother lives in her past mistakes. Both are unforgiving. Of their 6 children I am #5 at age 44. The rest of the siblings are scattered and my parents live in the same town as me. They are in their 70’s now. For the past 7 years they come and go from my life. They are notorious for passing judgment on my children, me or my brothers and sisters. Each time they sit alone in their home, no friends, hobbies or outside interaction “building their case” against whomever they are angry and bitter with. It’s my turn again. Since June of this year, fathers day actually, my father has not been to my home. My mother confirmed the reason is that he was unhappy with the knowledge that I chose to reunite with my current mate. Because of this reason my parents have removed themselves from my life completely and once again. I on the other hand fill a sense of responsibility for their well being since I am the only family member in town with them however cannot get them to communicate with me. They don’t call or answer emails yet forward me chain emails and send messages through my sister that I NEVER come to see them and that they never hear from me. My last attempt to pull them from their cave of despair was this Thanksgiving when I asked them to come have dinner with us. They never responded to my invitation with even a decline. They have totally refused to communicate with me. I’ve been praying about my lack of interest in their recent head games while still trying to figure out what my role of responsibility is regarding this recent rift in our relationship. Each time I’ve visited them since June and bring up happy, fun and exciting things that David and I have been up to neither one of them act as if I have said a word. They want to hate him and their bitterness towards him has turned to turning away from me once again. Honestly though, they have never been deeply involved, loving or caring parents. Can you offer any suggestions?

  6. Lin says:

    Denise, what an awful situation you are dealing with here. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    You have every right to your personal happiness and to choose whomever you want to be in your life, and your parents of course have no right to be so judgmental about who you choose to be with. Of course, if your parents are aware of any personal details of what happened between you and David that caused the initial breakup, I can understand as a parent how they may have strong feelings on the matter. But, it’s still your choice regardless of how they feel about it, and you must accept that they may never be accepting of him or welcome him with open arms.

    Since I don’t personally know your parents, I couldn’t possibly tell you whether they are playing mind games or not, or if their behavior is due to loneliness and distance from their other children/grandchildren. Loneliness in the elderly can do awful things to an elderly person/parent, and that is why I’ve written about how important it is for the entire family to take an active role in caring for their elderly parents.

    The responsibility of caring for your parents is not just your responsibility. You cannot possibly “do it all” for them. You are only one person, and your siblings need to take an equal share of the responsibility of caring for your mom and dad, regardless of how far away they may live.

    I wish I could tell you that your parents attitude and “uncaring” ways would change for the better if everyone was more involved, but I can’t say because I don’t know. As you’ve said, they apparently weren’t the best parents to begin with and now you’re trying to deal with elderly parents who treat you badly.

    However it is you need to go about doing this, it’s important that you have a family meeting with your siblings about providing the needed care and attention to your parents. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t be expected to by anyone else in the family. Living further away than you is no excuse for neglecting parents.

    At this family meeting, with just the adults in the family, discuss the various things that are needed for your parents. Visits, regular phone calls, gifts “for no reason”, helping around the house, taking care of the yard if there is one, and all the things that go into taking care of mom and dad. Transportation to Dr. visits, overseeing the taking of medications properly and in the correct dosages etc etc.

    Discuss a workable plan for the adults in the family to share the responsibilities of caring for your parents. Personal feelings, long held grudges, anger over not being raised in the best family environment does not excuse anyone in the family from taking part in caring for your parents.

    Perhaps the family could arrange for a caregiver to come daily or a couple times each week, where the family shares equally in paying for someone to visit awhile, prepare simple meals, do a little light housekeeping, taking them to the doctor, grocery shopping etc to lighten your heavy burden.

    Something else…, I can only hope that you stay in regular contact with your siblings and that they each know how things really are, how your father is treating you (again), and that they know and understand the reality of the situation you are dealing with. Hopefully they are not judgmental towards you, based on whatever “dad” is saying about you to them.

    Always remember that your efforts to care for your parents the best way you know how will be blessed and is being blessed, so don’t give up hope. You can only do so much, and the rest you have to leave up to God to handle His way. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too. You deserve it.

  7. Joan T says:

    Lin, thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comments about caring for elderly parents. It’s difficult to find good conversations on this topic, so I was happy to find your site.

    My husband and I moved my mom in to live with us about 2 1/2 years ago. We all moved together up to a new home, which helped a lot since none of us was moving into the other’s established home. Our extended family is all here in the new town and we see them often, but I am an only child and Mama’s care is definitely all mine. She is still reasonably well and independent, though dementia and osteoporosis are showing their signs here and there. My father had severe issues from dementia a few years ago, including violence toward my mom, his wife of 54 years at that time. Daddy passed away in late 2005, and Mama has been with us since then. It takes a lot of getting used to, but we’re managing. Some days are tougher than others, and right now we are temporarily a four-generation household so life is full and unpredictable. Our daughter and granddaughter will soon be moving into their own place, so we’ll be back to just the three of us. Having the two younger members in our home has been unexpected good medicine in the meantime, though. The two-year-old is fun for us all, and having them with us has been a real serendipity.

    The one thing my husband and I really miss is our time for pursuing things we enjoy together as a couple. We went from raising our own children and seeing them graduate to having Mama move in with us all within months of our youngest finishing school. We always expected to have a season for ourselves before parental care needs developed, but that didn’t happen. We’re approaching retirement now, and it helps to continually try to carve out some time to do our favorite hobbies together.

    Finally, I write a blog to just reach out and encourage others who are in similar situations. That’s a great stress-reliever for me, too, and it blesses me to try to encourage others who are walking this often-difficult path. It’s no picnic on either side of this spectrum some days–it’s also hard on Mama not to be completely independent anymore–but my husband and I believe we’re doing what God would have us do to help Mama in her senior years.

    In the meantime, thank you again for your site. It is an encouragement!
    Blessings,
    Joan

    • Lin says:

      Hi Joan,

      Thanks for stopping by. I understand all too well the struggle with caring for elderly parents, and try to find time to spend alone with your husband. That can be very challenging indeed! As much as want and need to take care of our parents in their elderly years, it’s sooo important for couples to make time for themselves and focus on their love for each other in their marriage/relationship.

      That’s one BIG reason why I strongly recommend that the entire family (including teenagers and children) take on a variety of helpful responsibilities to balance out the care given and who is primarily providing the care.

      Joan, writing a blog to be of encouragement to others who are struggling to find balance while taking care of their parents is a wonderful thing!

      I always suggest to readers or people who email me with questions to look in their local area for “adult day care” locations, where the parent can spend some time with other elderly folks while the caregiver gets a break or can run some errands or spend time with their spouse etc. Sometimes, kind neighbors can be called on to help out and spend a couple/few hours with the parent while the caregiver is taking care of other things.

      Everyone in the family should help with the care for grandma or grandpa (or both) as much as possible.

      Thanks again for stopping by Joan!

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