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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 21-Aug-14 10:40:48

Feeling squashed - life in the sandwich generation

Torn between work, caring for children or grandchildren and caring for elderly relatives at the same time, the sandwich generation certainly don't have it easy. Author Rosie Staal describes that feeling of being pulled in too many directions by family life - and why she counts her blessings anyway.

Rosie Staal

Feeling squashed - life in the sandwich generation

Posted on: Thu 21-Aug-14 10:40:48


Lead photo

Rosie Staal

Nothing can describe the feeling of suffocation mixed with terror that comes from being in the middle of a generational sandwich.

It's mostly a nice kind of suffocation and a bearable sort of terror, but it can sometimes threaten to overwhelm. Take the occasions when I'm alone with my mother who is aged 92 and suffering with Alzheimer's, breast cancer, hearing loss and poor sight, and the sense of responsibility is immense. It's only me, I think. Just me and you, mama, against the world and all it's throwing at you these days.

I'm the little one, the younger daughter whose head was always filled with irresponsible dreams while the world went on around her. Now, my world is only too real. I find myself having to keep my feet on the ground and make decisions and be a bit bossy. "No, mum. You don't need more lights on. It's dark in your flat because you're wearing sunglasses. Take them off."

She's sweet, affectionate, funny, quick-witted and cannily adept at disguising her limitations when in company, but she lives almost entirely in the moment. Conversations, always shouted because she won't wear or can't find her much hated hearing aid, consist mostly of mundane matters. She reads her daily Times newspaper, often several days out of date, and two weekly newspapers, studying every picture, reading every line. Within one minute, she has not the slightest recollection of any of it. Never mind. It's all part of her daily routine, which is so important when memory loss dominates.

I feel torn in so many directions, spread too thinly to be entirely useful and I suspect I don't come up to scratch in all areas of the daughter, mother, grandmother and wife stakes.

Although mum is enviably agile and can even run when the mood or occasion demands, she is physically small and I worry she'll break if bumped by passers-by when we're out, our arms linked for extra safety. Few people give way on pavements these days, have you noticed?

I'm lucky, I know, not just that I have my mum and that she is still able to show her love in many ways, but that I share her care with my big sister. If I were truly alone, with all the responsibility on my shoulders, I wonder how I would cope.

The reason I have doubts is that it isn't just mum who takes my time and attention (and big shares of my caring gene), but it's my husband, my children, and my six grandchildren as well. I feel torn in so many directions, spread too thinly to be entirely useful, and I suspect I don't come up to scratch in all areas of the daughter, mother, grandmother and wife stakes. Yet no one is judging me. No one has said I'm rubbish at this. I guess they trust me to do my best.

It's not easy. The young ones lives miles from us, so it's upsetting that I don't have the time to see more of my grandchildren and frustrating that, for instance, I can't relieve my daughter's appalling sleep deprivation by helping with her two boys, especially the insomniac toddler. She'll cope and get through it. I did, I tell her, unhelpfully.

So on I go, wondering what the future holds while counting all my many blessings and sharing the immense love I have for all the players in my mad game of Happy Families.

I'm the only one who knows that my head sometimes feels as though it's in meltdown and my feet are paddling frantically under the surface.

Rosie is the author of What Shall We Do With Mother, available now from Amazon.

By Rosie Staal

Twitter: @iamrosiest

Pollaidh Thu 21-Aug-14 12:33:51

I really sympathise with those feelings of inadequacy - of not being "up to scratch" as you try to be all things to all people.
Has this made you think about your own future? I've been resolving to make sure I am in a place where I can be safe and looked after before the panic sets in. Not sure how to do it exactly - but I will find a way.
I don't want my children to be the meat in my sandwich!

wallers5 Thu 21-Aug-14 18:56:30

How heartfelt & true for some of us. Both my parents are dead so I don't have that problem but I do have 6 grand children & I help look after the two youngest. Then I feel I am not giving the others enough attention or my long standing partner who tells me that the grandchildren are wearing me out! I want to help a far too busy & poor farming daughter but underneath it all I know I too have a life to lead which at the moment I cannot do. I have not dared asked my children about my future. They are all so busy & I would not want to burden them. That is another problem I put off. But I am not a sandwich so at least that is something. I am sure your life will get better eventually. As they say 'life is set to try us'. Good luck with it all & many sympathies.

NfkDumpling Thu 21-Aug-14 19:14:50

Until 15 months ago I was in that position. I know exactly what Rosie means.

As an only child I supported mum while dad was ill, dying, afterwards, her own illness and eventual demise over a seven year period whilst still trying to be there for a husband sorting out his own health problems, helping three offspring all moving house, having children (one prem) of their own and moving house ourselves. Definitely in a squashed sandwich!

On the advise of a friend I started keeping a journal so I had somewhere to let of steam - and also be my memory as to what had happened at what Social Services meeting, when forms had been sent and so on. I still keep the journal - but it makes much happier reading nowadays.

(There's a housing with care facility where we live, independent flats with communal gardens and care, restaurant, hair dressing, etc on the premises. That's where I'm going when I'm past it!)

HollyDaze Thu 21-Aug-14 20:00:10

I think it's very sad that British values seems to be that family shouldn't look after family once young children aren't involved - that seems a bit one-sided to me. Other cultures take their elderly parents in once they can no longer look after themselves fully (and probably aunts and uncles if necessary) and their societies haven't broken down because of it. Does it, in fact, make their societies more caring and functional than ours?

Personally, I wouldn't want to live with either of my children (and, to be honest, if it was the sandwich situation that was being referred to above, and my children were the meat - it would be that awful wafer-thin stuff anyway!). I would prefer to live in one of those retirement villages that I have seen advertised when I can no longer look after the house and garden properly.

NfkDumpling Thu 21-Aug-14 21:51:15

The British have this reputation for not caring for their elderly, but it's not true. We do care. A lot. But there's no way that I could have had both my parents - and their dog - living with us at the same time as sharing the care of DH's parents.

In India a man will take in his parents and his wife is expected to wait on them, but when I asked what happened to her parents if she had no brother to care for them, all I got was a shrug. They're on their own. The same thing seems to happen in China. It's very selective.

etheltbags1 Thu 21-Aug-14 22:54:36

I think its the other way around, parents bring up the children as nature intended but the older generation should look after themselves and if they cant then go into care. Ive told my DD that if Im unable to care of myself then to put me into a home. I don't want my daughter to be stressed and rushing ot work, doing stuff at home then coming to visit me. Its just not fair.
I lived with my gran when I was a child as my mother was alone, I saw how dominant my gran was in her last illness, she was mean bullying and just plain nasty. There is no excuse for that she should have been grateful for being looked after. She would be awake all night shouting for drinks etc and we got no sleep, she was capable of getting her own drinks and going to the loo but she would not.
Now my mother lives near but on her own some of her friends have waited hand and foot on their parents and I think she wants me to do that but as long as she can look after herself I wont interfere. She has a better social life than me, I have told her that my priority is DGD.
Also my mother puts other people before me, if she has a friend visiting, she expects me to fade into the distance, she will make the friend a cuppa but not me, shes the same with other relatives, I come last. So sorry I cant sympathise with older people too much. I help with shopping and would do things If she asks but she never asks so I just let her get on with things I just could not cope with her and looking after DGD

Elegran Thu 21-Aug-14 23:11:16

What a sad family life.

gillybob Thu 21-Aug-14 23:31:09

I can totally sympathise with this situation as I too am living in the sandwich generation, except I have an additional generation to worry about. In my small family I have my grandma, 98, for whom I am the main carer, my parents who are both in their 70's but extremely needy (my mum is severely disabled and is a dialysis patient), I have 2 grown up children and three grandchildren who I care for 2-3 days a week. My husband and I have our own small engineering business in which I work around 32 hours a week.

Sometimes I feel like a piece of elastic springing from one place to the next being a little bit to everyone (I'm hopeless with words) but not quite giving enough to anyone. My poor husband gets the very least of me.

NfkDumpling Fri 22-Aug-14 08:11:55

Giilybob - my admiration for you has no bounds. I've long wondered how you manage to cope and stay sane and upright!

joannapiano Fri 22-Aug-14 08:29:41

gillybob, I was in a similar position to yourself 7 years ago. Things have now changed, because of the deaths of our 2 lots of parents.
The month we moved to this house we had 3 parents in 3 different hospitals-broken hip and dementia, kidney failure and hip replacement.
We were minding 2 DGC under 5 two days a week, plus the other 3 days I was working in a call centre and doing 9 hour computer shifts.
I also had a horrible step mother. All late 80's.
DH and I used to divide up the load by each dealing with our own parents .
We also had builders in as the house needed renovating and lived with dust and rubble.
But hey! We got through it.
Best advice is to look after yourself as well, and rest and relax when you can. We found the DGC light relief after visiting parents.

joannapiano Fri 22-Aug-14 09:01:39

Reading the above, it's a bit like Top Trumps for Granny misery stories!
It was lucky we didn't have the 8 DGC we have now! grin

gillybob Sat 23-Aug-14 07:38:23

Apologies if my situation reads like a "misery story" joannapiano it certainly wasn't meant to. I really love my grandma and whilst she can often drive me around the bend I feel truly blessed to still have her in my life. I honestly thought I was losing her a few weeks ago but she has bounced back (for now) although a little weaker and more confused than she was.

Likewise the little ones, I can always find time for them and I totally agree with you when you say the DGC can be light relief after dealing with the elderly.

I was just trying to sympathise with the bloggers situation by describing my own. smile

Who said I was sane NfkDumpling? I think being a bit crazy is what keeps me going. grin

joannapiano Sat 23-Aug-14 09:42:15

I meant my misery story gillybob certainly not yours! Apologies if you thought otherwise.
Looking back, Dh and I got very down at times-DH used to play opera arias very loudly in the car coming back from visiting his parents to let off steam!

joannapiano Sat 23-Aug-14 09:47:15

I meant your post! (I'm the one moaning!)blush

gillybob Sat 23-Aug-14 12:58:35

No problem joannapiano I was just being over sensitive. I know what you mean about playing loud music. When I leave my grandmas my drive home is along the coastline and the scenery is beautiful. I always blast the music in the car and thought it was because of the sea. Having read your last post I now realize that it is probably more to do with letting off steam. smile

etheltbags1 Sun 24-Aug-14 00:26:04

I agree Elegran I do have a sad family life. We have never got along any of us. I used to dread Christmas from being quite young, although I always got presents and had a good dinner, I had to toe the line, not speak unless I said 'the right thing', not to be disrespectful etc, these are hard for a kid to remember. I ended up resentful and deceitful, I would do my own thing in an underhand way, however more recent Christmases were worse, I was much more lenient to my daughter as we all are nowadays but she was always angry and resentful, my mother was just as resentful and there being just the three of us we just used to argue. I would beg of them not to. Granny had to have her tv on Christmas day (the queen was her favourite) my daughter wanted top of the pops and loud music and I just wanted peace to read. It would end up daughter sitting in her room with music banging, granny asleep and me sulking in the kitchen with the dishes. one year I said 'there are 3 tvs in the house we can all watch our own thing and my ma said that if she had to go to the bedroom to watch tv she would go home. (and sulk). Even today we argued, I got bored with her rambling about life in her day, Ive heard it all before and she said I was stupid that I should want to listen to her life as it was. I walked out. I don't know how to cope with her anymore she is always right. I dream of going away and never coming back, the only thing keeps me sane is my DD and dgd

etheltbags1 Sun 24-Aug-14 00:27:55

So tomorrow Im dying my hair pink strips again, wearing leggings and baseball boots just to annoy her. Its the only way I can react. I have no-one to talk to I am so alone.

NfkDumpling Sun 24-Aug-14 07:36:22

Try writing it down Ethel.

My mother was difficult too and I couldn't offload on DH or the kids, it wouldn't have been fair. She was sweetness itself with them - except once when we were on holiday and she let fly at DD2. It was nice to have a witness!

Keeping a private journal gave me somewhere to offload and reading it back sometimes helped me see I was not useless, gave me strength to stand my ground. Helped me understand why she was as she was. It also helped me remember that we did have good times too and stopped the bad overshadowing all.

NfkDumpling Sun 24-Aug-14 07:38:09

(And I bet you look great in leggings and baseball boots and stripy hair.)

etheltbags1 Sun 24-Aug-14 11:23:11

thank you dumpling I m going to do that. I write most stuff down, Ive actually written several short stories and a novel but they are all on either a stick or notebook. Ive not got the confidence to enquire how to get published, presuming they are good enough, which I doubt. I will start the 'granny grump chronicles today'.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 24-Aug-14 13:02:23

Just read Rosie' s blog. It's like a horrifying glimpse into the future. I just know my care, if I make it to a ripe old age, could easily land squarely on my younger daughter.

It would have to be a home I suppose. Terrifying thought. sad

Must keep some funds put by for both of us.

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 24-Aug-14 13:04:17

Perhaps I shouldn't have the last minute trip to Barcelona that we are planning. shock

jinglbellsfrocks Sun 24-Aug-14 13:04:47

Or perhaps just avoid the misery blogs.

Iam64 Sun 24-Aug-14 19:50:52

Barcelona sounds a good plan jingle, I've never been but everyone I know who has, raves about it.