Duty vs love: being in the sandwich generation

On Tuesdays, I care for my fourteen-month old grandson, Harry, at my home. I give him breakfast, I change his nappy. I do the same for my mum, although she manages her own incontinence pull-ups, I just put them in the bin.

We are in the garage now. I buckle Harry into his car seat, then open the front passenger door for mum. When she is also buckled in, I go to the back of the car, and dump her walker and Harry’s stroller in the boot. The walker is heavy and cumbersome, and takes up most of the room; the stroller hardly fits but both pieces of equipment are essential for a trip into town.

As I reverse, I grip the wheel. I feel resentful and tired. Pulling out of the driveway into the street, mum looks to the left and tells me it’s all clear. She’s just trying to be helpful. Harry drops the toy truck I’ve given him to play with and starts to grizzle.

I’m 62-years-old and part of the sandwich generation — caught between my 89-year-old mother, and my children’s careers and their need for my support with their children. I love them all.

My husband Alex goes to work every day and when he returns in the evening, there’s always a home-cooked meal on the table. Whenever he reaches into the wardrobe, he finds everything laundered and waiting for him. I’m organised and I make everything run like clockwork. I’m proud of that.

A year ago, after my father died, mum came to live with us. I set up the guest room so it looked like the bedroom she had for the 64 years she was married to dad. A 55-inch plasma on the wall, a comfortable chair, soft flannelette sheets on her bed, photos of family all around. She likes looking out the window at the red climbing rose. The Gleditsia provides lovely dappled shade against the afternoon sun.

Mum says she doesn’t want to be a bother, yet she is. Her presence demands my time. She has become my part-time job that I didn’t really want.

The thing is, she wept in the car after we visited an aged care facility near where we live. It was the third one we’d looked at — all pretty much the same, like hospital resorts full of very old people.

“Don’t put me in there,” she begged. Her lips trembled. My poor mother. There was nothing for it. My brother wasn’t up for having her; he was clear about that. Alex said he didn’t mind if she moved in. Why would he? He doesn’t help.

It’s women’s work. Daughter’s work.

By the time we arrive in town and pull into the doctor’s carpark, Harry is asleep. I help mum get out of the car, steady her on her feet, and roll her walker to her.

Harry smiles when I put him in his stroller because he thinks we’re going for a walk. Mum is slow walking up the ramp, so I measure my steps to hers. We wait thirty-five minutes for the doctor to call her name.

I push Harry’s stroller in, and we sit. The doctor talks to me as if mum isn’t there.

“Mum, you explain what happened,” I say.

Mum lifts her face to the young man — who is about the age of my son, her grandson. She struggles to explain. She silently moves her mouth, then looks back at me. Her eyes seem small behind her outdated glasses.

“Mum has started to wander off,” I tell him. “Yesterday I found her in a neighbour’s backyard. Another time, she was walking along the footpath. I’ve had to start locking her in the house.”

The doctor straightens his shoulders and takes a breath. “Have you thought of admitting your mother into aged care?” he asks.

Mum startles us when she speaks. “We all live too long theses days,” she says, stabbing her finger towards the doctor. “It’s your fault. You doctors keep giving us all those tablets. And I’m not going into aged care.”

Harry squirms and wants to get out of his stroller.

The doctor is talking to me, but I hardly hear him. He’s saying something about mum being assessed. For what? For where? As if I can force her to do anything.

She is my mother.

Are you a part of the sandwich generation? What do you think about the shift in relationships?

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Image credit: Mister+Lady Photography.