Guest Post Written by Alyssa Rose
As moms we are all well acquainted with the dreaded “mommy guilt”…trying to be there for every important moment in your children’s lives while still juggling everything else. Well what happens when “daughter guilt” and needing to care for ailing parents gets added to the mix? Welcome to the Sandwich Generation where you need to be everywhere, taking care of everything for everyone.
When my youngest daughter was only 5 months old she had to have surgery. I remember watching as they wheeled her away and all I wanted to do was snatch her and run. I knew that they were going to make her better, but my instinct was to protect her. Earlier this year, I felt the same level of panic and pain as I had to bring my mother to the emergency room. As the nurses closed the door behind me, I had to resist the same urge to run back into the hospital and kidnap my mom. I knew she was getting the care she needed, but that maternal/protective instinct is ferocious. The flip-side of that deeply ingrained instinct to take care of our own is the guilt that comes when you cannot make everything better.
I can remember back to childhood when I thought my parents were infallible and indestructible and I wish that it was still true. Over the last few years my parents have faced a variety of health crises along with everyday challenges of getting older. As an only child of divorced parents, I am their safety net, advocate, caretaker, etc. As a child (and even well into my adulthood) my parents would do anything to protect and provide for me, so being there for them now is the very least I can do in return.
My parents do not live here in Connecticut, so working long distance I play phone tag with doctors, try to coordinate care and support my parents to the best of my ability. Even as a social worker and attorney, I often find navigating the health care system overwhelming. I will give you some unsolicited advice to sit down with your parents and make sure that you have everything in place (Power of Attorney, Living Wills, Health Care Proxy, etc.) so that when you need to step up and care for your parents you have the legal authority to do so. Even when you are prepared, the emotional toll of seeing your parents in distress is very real.
The added responsibilities associated with assisting my parents on top of caring for my own four children, maintaining a home (aka hiding the piles of mess), occasionally interacting with my husband, and working a full-time job creates that awful nagging guilt that in trying to be everywhere you are really letting down everyone by only giving them part of your attention and energy. Whenever I raise this topic, I get the well-meaning but not particularly practical advice, “Make sure you are taking care of yourself or you won’t be good to anyone!” Well, that is super, but my mother is still in the hospital, my kids are somewhere in the never-ending cycle of cold/stomach flu/ear infection, and my boss still expects me to show up on a daily basis.
So I am left with the hardest challenge that all mothers/daughters/women face – prioritizing. While I might feel awful for missing my daughters’ soccer practice to be by my mother’s bedside, I doubt my girls will remember that one missed moment years from now, but I do hope they remember their Nana and Poppa and that we as a family make sacrifices to care for each other. I continue to work towards reframing being stuck in this sandwich generation into being the glue (mayo maybe?) that holds the family together.
Alyssa Rose lives in Simsbury with her 4 daughters (4-year-old twins, 2 ½ year old and 19 month old), 3 cats, 2 dogs and 1 very patient husband. A New York native, she graduated from Mount Holyoke College before moving to Connecticut to attend UCONN where she earned her JD and MSW. She now works in the behavioral healthcare field and loves going to work every day simply because it allows her the time to eat an uninterrupted meal and go to the bathroom without a parade of children following behind. Her greatest parenting accomplishment is taking all four of her girls grocery shopping with her and not losing any of them or her sanity. Her guilty pleasures involve excessive amounts of reality television (living vicariously through the Real Housewives of Wherever) and Haagen Dazs ice cream, without which she would not be able to function. Her parenting style involves sarcasm, bribery and impromptu dance parties.