No, it’s not the habitual fast-food addicts who frequent McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Burger King or other sandwich establishments. It is a phrase coined to depict an increasing reality for the generation of individuals between the ages of 30 and 60 who find themselves sandwiched between conflicting demands of taking care of both their children and their parents. Since most of the care for aging parents is performed by family members, the following story is a common one for many families in contemporary society.
Granny has lived alone in a small, but neat apartment since her husband died nearly seven years ago. Despite her best efforts, she is having an increasingly difficult time managing her own life. Although struggling, she maintains her pride and insists that she can manage. But weekly you are given evidence that her ability to manage her own life is slipping away. The inability to pay her bills, the rising potential for a fire in her little apartment — several times pots had been left on the stove until their contents were charred black — her risk to anyone on the road, in parking lots, or sidewalks for that matter, during her weekly visits to the grocery and church in her 1985 Cadillac, vividly tell you that Granny needs both support and supervision to keep her from being a danger to herself or her community.
Whose responsibility is it to take care of Granny? If she is like most of the aging, she has stated repeatedly that she wants no part of the nursing home. Home health care is an option, but a very expensive option even with insurance.
For most American families, the responsibility is assumed by family members. Not surprisingly, research reveals that the primary caretaker of an aging parent is typically the oldest daughter.
Second in line would be any other daughters who might be willing and available.
Surprisingly, third in line is the daughter-in-law, and last, the son. If you are wondering why a daughter-in-law would take on the responsibility of caring for an aging son’s mother when a son is available, the answer rests in the conditioning that takes place in our society which emphasizes the care-taking role as the responsibility of females, rather than males.
If you find yourself sandwiched between the demands of children who are facing adolescence or college and aging parents who may live 100-plus years, consider the following guidelines regarding aging parents:
— Keep the aging parent’s well-being first and foremost. This means taking a hard look at her health and determining if staying in a family member’s home is really in her best interest and in the best interest of the family.
— Communicate openly and honestly with each child of the aging parent. Logically look at all the possibilities for the care of the parent. Sometimes actually making a written list of the pros and cons of each possibility can be helpful.
— Acknowledge that the care of an aging parent is the responsibility of every child, regardless of gender, life circumstance, or finances. In some way, every child can assist in the care of the aging parent. Share in this responsibility as evenly as possible.
— Deal honestly with the aging parent. Although beyond the capacity of some to understand due to dementia, the aging parent has a right to participate in her care as much as she is capable.
— And last, know when enough is being done to enhance the overall quality of the aging parent’s life, without attempting to prolong the dying process when the quality of life is greatly diminished or nonexistent.