Caring for Our Parents

… a Sandwich Generationer's perspective

Archive for the tag “aging”

The Art of Calling

My brothers and I often discuss how phone conversations with my parents are becoming more and more superficial, to the point that they could almost be scripted.  After a nice “hello”, one must quickly transition to the weather.  This topic could be covered in a couple seconds or go on for a few minutes, depending on the mood from both parties. The phone is then passed from my father (who always answers the phone) to my mother (who has people to do that for her) where the conversation starts all over again. There can be no acknowledgement of the conversation with my father. This would raise significant tension and be interpreted as an overt statement of preference towards him. The words, tone and emotionality when speaking to my mother must be the same as just discussed with my father or there will be consequences.  After the weather discussion, the conversation evolves with the ‘how are things going with you?’ question.  At which point, I am unable to share any significant or meaningful information with them about my life because, if I do, one of three responses will occur, each of which would be regreatable:

1. The ‘we are not really listening to you’ response:  (Most frequent response)

Me: “Well, we broke ground on the house and they are about to lay the foundation!”

Them: “How are the kids?”

2. The ‘I’m bored so I will find a problem to solve’:  (Most annoying response)

Me: “Well, we broke ground on the house and they are about to lay the foundation!”

Them: “Do you guys need money?”

Me: “No, we don’t need money, we are fine.”

Them: “You can’t be fine, you’re building a house, you must need money”

3. The ‘I’m going to contradict you no matter what’ response:  (Most ennerving yet humorous response)

Me: “I have good news, I won the lottery!”

Them: “Well that’s not good news – now is when all the problems begin… just wait and see.  I’ve seen this a thousand times.”

or

Me: “I have bad news, I have a rare tropical disease and I have 4 hours to live.”

Them: “Oh, don’t be so dramatic… I have no doubt all you have to do is put some ointment on the rash and it’ll get better.  Listen to me, I know these things. Worst case, the doctors do surgery and you’ll be home in 3 days tops.  I should talk to your doctor, I’ll tell them how Joey had the same problem and his doctor was able to fix it right up.”

Therefore, when the question arises, my response is consistently: “Not much going on here, same old boring life… kids are growing up, husband is working hard and dog is as cute as ever. You?” This is how I stay sane. They then respond with a similar statement.

Historically, at this point the conversation found itself at a critical juncture.  If both parties were satisfied, there would be a pleasant “goodbye” and “talk to you soon” promise.  But sometimes I would make the mistake of probing further with “have you seen so and so? Any news from such and such?”. Then I would get to hear all about how awful so and so is or how such and such hasn’t called nor wants to spend any time with them. This would set off a spiral that always ends with my mother getting grumpy and bringing up the latest thing she swears my father didn’t tell her, such as “Of course, if I had known that so and so had the baby I could have gotten her a gift but no one tells me anything around here. Your father keeps everything from me”.

Needless to say, probing is no longer an option unless I register significant positive energy and high spirits from my mother.  Even then, I enter this area with significant caution and hesitation.

So, when my brother tells me that conversations with my parents are superficial and boring, I think, “I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

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Oh the guilt!

So I call my parents regularly and they tell me they are doing great.  They are back into their routine and living their lives.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder.  Why you ask?

Because they make comments like “We are good … just another boringday here.”  Are they really doing well and like their boring lives or is this a passive aggressive way of saying “We are bored out of our minds because we there is nothing to do … and it’s all your fault”? (Notice that I added that last part for emphasis and a bit of self pity).  My favorite is when they remind me to “Please call more often if it’s not too much trouble.” I call them basically every day!

The funny thing is that only my parents can make me feel guilty in this way.  If anyone else even tries to play these passive aggressive games with me, I tend to address it immediately by calling them out which usually nips it in the bud.  Yet, with them, I play right along and plunge right into their game.  The funny thing is that I know they don’t mean to do this and if they ever realized just how bad they make me feel, they would be crushed.

When the feeling of guilt sinks in, I remind myself that they are living the lives they chose and that it is not my job to make it better (or worse).  Then I ask myself if I am still engaging with them out of love or obligation – Am I calling every day because I want to or because I have to.  When I find myself in the ‘have to’ category, I reflect on it and try to get back to the ‘want to’.  Sometimes, I do this by waiting a day or to and having a chance to miss them before I call.  Other times, I do this by thinking about what I want to talk to them about and wonder what they are up to.

A friend of mine recommended a book I would like to read – Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.  I’ll let you know what I learn but if you beat me to it or have already read it, I’d love to get your perspective on it!

“Let them be”, she said…

In my quest for trying to get a more objective, more educated perspective regarding my parents’ well-being, I decided to talk to an expert.

Her words of wisdom… “Let your parents be!”

A bit harsh if you ask me… after all, I’m just trying to help them out.  Granted, I’m doing so by telling them everything they are doing ‘wrong’ and clarifying what they need to be doing to make their lives ‘better’.  Isn’t that what a daughter is for…to bring truth and perspective to the issues?  Who would tell them the ‘truth’ if not me?

After I got over the initial shock of realizing I may not be the perfect daughter, I decided to reflect upon the advice and try it on for size.

“Be supportive!”, she said.  I’m not sure I’ve told them recently that I love them unconditionally.  Nor have I told my dad how much I appreciate how hard he’s trying to take care of mom.  But he knows… right?!  Besides, I need to tell him all the ways he is messing things up so he can stop doing it.  I know he doesn’t mean them, he just doesn’t realize it so I need to tell him.  Yet, it never seems to work when I do so maybe if I try something different…  So I call them every day and celebrate their activities the same way I celebrate for others, asking questions and reinforcing positive actions while not giving any time to negative aspects.  I proceed to have had the most pleasant discussions with them I have had in months.  Maybe this ‘expert’ is on to something…

I realize that I’ve been tougher with my parents than with others I love.  Probably because I have such high expectations of what they can do versus what they are doing or maye because they are tough on me when it came to this type of thing.  Either way, I realize what they need, now more than ever, is unconditional love and support.  That I can do easily!

I still struggle with knowing their  house is a mess (even though I know it is still cleaner than most college dorm rooms), or that they eat out every day (even though I know more often than not it’s a relatively healthy and balanced meal).  I still worry that they fight and argue a lot (even though they’ve been doing that for over 40 years).  Ultimately though, I realize that I will worry about them no matter what and that my judgement will not improve the situation nor tell them something they don’t already know deep down inside.

I realize now that I need to be as sensitive and protective of their feelings as I am with everyone else I love and care about.  The world is full of people who will judge them and tell them ‘how it really is’.  Unfortunately, not many will remind them they are doing the best they can and that it’s good enough.

… I’m off to call my mom and dad!

We are called The Sandwich Generation

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance. US Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

Merriam-Webster officially added the term “Sandwich Generation” to its dictionary in July 2006.

Since I am still in my mid- (OK… late-) 30s, I am technically not a member of this group.  Yet I’ve earned my early admittance into this club since I have been acting in this capacity for over 10 years.  As I share the term The Sandwich Generation with others, I often get the same reaction – “Wow, I’ve never heard of it but it makes a lot of sense… it really does explain a lot and provides a helpful perspective!”.

I’m hoping my blog will help me reach others who are facing similar challenges and we can help each other improve our own well-being through support and encouragement.

This is my story…

My parents are in their late 60s and my mom has Alzheimer’s (Yes, I know she’s really too young for Alzheirmer’s… yes, it does suck… and yes, life is not fair).  She was diagnosed over 5 years ago and has remained relatively stable during this time.  Since her degeneration has not followed a normal path, she is caught in this in-between stage where she is neither independent nor sick enough to want to accept care.  For 5 years she has been stuck in this painful fear/denial phase which we pray will transition to a more productive phase but hasn’t yet.  My father is her full-time caretaker and ultimate decision maker for all things related to either one of them.  While he is in great physical health, his emotional well-being has steadily deteriorated over time and he still has not dealt with the loss of his life partner. You can imagine that the impact of the disease and their daily struggles have taken a toll on their loved ones – their kids, their siblings and their friends (the few that still remain).

While I don’t participate in their physical care, I am one of their primary caretakers for emotional needs.  This is a tough situation to be in since I am essential to their emotional wellbeing but not a decision-maker for anything related to their physical care.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know these two are tightly connected and I find myself often fighting losing battles.

On the other hand, I am blessed with two wonderful children and THE BEST husband (I am not exaggerating…REALLY).  My kids are healthy and growing into amazing little people but, like all kids their age, depend on mom and dad for both their physical and emotional well-being.  My husband is an equal partner in the raising of our kids and an ever-present source of support for my parents.

And then there is me… stuck in this constant struggle to find balance. I want to be at least as good a wife and mother as my mom was. I want to honor my parents by being there for them like they were for me. I want to be a good example to my children by taking care of myself, mind and body.

I find myself often doing nothing well but I never give up.  I always believe tomorrow will be better.  When I do things well, I try to pat myself in the back but my type A personality often shines through and reminds me of how I could have done it better.  Guilt… Guilt… Guilt!

Anyone have any suggestions on how to quiet the guilt while keeping the balance?

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