I'm the Sandwich Generation: Here's How I Care for My Toddler and Mom With Dementia
I'm mayonnaise. My 79-year-old mother is the bread on the bottom and my 2.5-year-old daughter is the bread on the top. I'm the squishy stuff in between that's oozing out the sides and dripping all over the floor. That's right—Having had my daughter at 41, I'm part of what is known as the sandwich generation, a group who cares for aging parents while raising children of our own. Folks told me it was going to be hard being a mom, but nobody told me how bananas it is to be a mom of a toddler and care for an aging parent who has been diagnosed with "moderate" dementia and Alzheimer's. I put moderate in quotes because thinking the nice lady who drove her around yesterday was a cousin we haven't seen in years (it was me) or forgetting that her dad has died certainly doesn't feel moderate to me.
This situation I was thrust into (newborn baby + caretaker for my mom) feels like I am limping up Mount Everest with no cane and no guide. There's potty training and well, potty training. Repeating myself to a toddler and answering my mom's question five times (at least). Dealing with tantrums and searching for meaningful conversations that don't cause further confusion. There are cartoons and 'Jeopardy,' toddler tables and TV dinner tables. Sippy cups and mugs filled with herbal tea. Asthma pumps and blood pressure meds. Socks with bunnies and knee highs.
Let's add in the fact that I'm a single mother by choice, part of a community of women who realized the man thing wasn't working but our biological clock was—on overtime. That means there's no 50/50 custody and no weekend visits. Yet somehow, although it doesn't always feel like it, it's working (though my bar is not set very high). I check to make sure both are breathing while asleep. They are. Success! It's working.
If you are part of the sandwich generation or just struggling to balance all aspects of your life at once, whatever that may look like for you, here are a few tried and true tips I use to make it work (well, you know…kinda):
Focus on gratitude
When things are overwhelming and I'm spread so thin that I'm practically transparent, I wipe my tears and move into gratitude mode. I thank God that my mom is still around and that I'm blessed enough to have this time with her. I thank God for the daughter who took the better part of two years to conceive. I thank God for an understanding boss who also happens to be the mom of twins and gets it. I thank God for the stamina to keep going.
Call in whatever help you can
When I had to stay late for work I called up two of my very best friends and asked if they could take time out of their busy lives to help out. One picked my daughter up from school, the other got takeout and watched her until I got home. When my mom isn't answering the phone and I'm at work in a near panic, I throw out a group text and ask if anyone is available to do a drive by. Someone usually is.
Take some me-time
This almost never happens but when it does, I legit see the difference. I meditate or get my hair done or drink wine or listen to awesome music or queue up Audible to Michael Singer, Oprah Winfrey, Rhonda Byrnes. Did I say I drink wine?
Like for real. Marie Kondo your home. Not that I have the time to be hugging and loving clothes but when there's a clutter-free space in my home I can suddenly think…and feel…and dare I say feel good? This week I'm purging on steroids. That translates to a bed full of clothes minus two huge bags that have been donated, and a moving team getting rid of two air conditioners, a king size bed, ginormous trunk of old linen, and a dresser.
Getting rid of stuff helps me find clarity in the chaos and once I let it all go, I can finally breathe again. Namaste.