I can remember as a child how the adults around me would constantly remind their children how difficult it is to be a parent. It is a truism often stated that being a parent is one of the toughest jobs in the world. But no one ever spoke about the challenges facing the children of aging parents.
Every day we talk with people who call us and share their stories with us. There are certain themes that run throughout these conversations, and I’ve often wondered if anyone has ever sat down to write a guidebook for today’s overburdened “sandwich” generation, caught between the needs of their children and their parents, not to mention spouses and jobs.
The daughter of one client told me the story of her sister’s children, who confronted their mother one day saying, “We get it Mom. It’s your parents, your job, and then us.” Understandably, this was a painful moment for this daughter/mother/spouse/employee, who was struggling to look after two fragile and aging parents, while juggling all of the other obligations in her life.
And what of the daughter who promised her mother that she could remain living in her home, only to have her mother – who suffers from dementia – walk out of her home and disappear for several hours? Should honoring her mother’s wishes by allowing her to remain living independently, despite the risks this poses, take precedence over her mother’s safety and well being?
What of the parents who shield their financial situation from their children, who when a crisis arises, have no idea how to access funds for their parent’s care? Let’s not forget the stories we hear all too often of seniors found living in squalor. How should a child cope with this? Where are the maps and guidebooks to help a child navigate the thickets of remaining a loving and respectful child, while taking on a stronger and more significant role in a parent’s life?
It’s an unhappy truth that not all questions have answers – or that some questions have too many possible answers. People often ask us what the “right” decision is – or how will they know if the path they choose is the best one – when is the “right” time to act? The only answer that I have come up with is not a very satisfying one. There rarely is a “right” answer; the decision that results from doing one’s homework and asking a lot of questions and consulting with loved ones – communing quietly with oneself – this comes closest to being the “right” answer.
In a wonderful movie that I watched the other night, a daughter details her struggles with coming to terms with her mother’s dementia. The film, Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, was filled with humor and pathos, and was a powerful expression of the emotional storms and quotidian minutiae that can consume us. In the end, however, the daughter learned how to redefine her relationship with the mother who no longer recognized her daughter. Once she understood that she couldn’t “fix” the situation, the daughter learned to adapt herself to this strange new paradigm of a mother, and in the process, she, too, was reborn and renewed. Perhaps, there’s a lesson here for all of us.
Director, Covenant Methodist Home Care