Of dealing with ageing parents and growing children
Growing old is inevitable. We don’t have a choice – it’s going to happen to each one of us. In fact since you started reading this article you have grown older.
And as we grow old, our parents grow old too. And you may be taking care of them, either as a primary caregiver or as a support (either moral, financial, emotional or someone who drops off meals or takes them to the docs etc). There is a possibility that you are also tending to young children as you take care of your ageing parents – doing school runs, attending annual school concerts, taking them for tuitions or after-school activities, making sure they’re eating healthy hearty meals and helping them combat the various germs and injuries they pick up at school.
Do you feel sandwiched between the two? Not really sure who needs you more? Do you sometimes feel torn between the two generations? Should you look back and take care of your folks – the people who brought you into this world? The ones who sacrificed plenty to get you to where you are? Or do you look forward and focus on those that you brought into the world and nurture them? Because essentially they are the future? They are the leaders of tomorrow and you want to leave a decent legacy behind, after all, don’t you?
You are part of this phenomenon known as the “Sandwich Generation” – the cheese slice that’s stuck between the two slices of bread! It has been brought about by the changes in demographics. With advances in the medical world and improvements in sanitation and hygiene, there has been a dramatic increase in life expectancies (the World Health Organisation has confirmed that life expectancies in Kenya have increased substantially since the turn of the 21st century). Coupled with this is the fact that people are having children later in life and are having fewer children, meaning there are fewer hands on deck.
It can be pretty stressful and overwhelming. Especially when you’re also trying to lead your own life – staying healthy, doing well at work, socialising with friends and family, travelling and exploring the world and running a household (with all the associated maintenance and bills).
So how does one manage with all these competing priorities. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all solution. But you can be rest assured that you are not alone. There are millions of people (in Kenya and world over) stuck in the same place as you are.
Here’s some suggestions to help you manage and to keep your head above water to stop drowning.
- Stop feeling guilty
Whilst I love being a mother of a three year old, I’m constantly haunted by these words:
“could have, should have, would have”
The guilt at every stage of the way isn’t something that I wasn’t prepared for despite the numerous books I read about parenting. The truth is there is no right way or wrong way and at the end of the day the important thing is that we tried our best.
I’ve been thinking about it and I think the same applies to caring for elderly parents. You feel like you want to do everything for them (because they did for you) and you feel hopeless and hapless if you can’t manage.
We probably feel like we could have gone to a better doctor or tried a different treatment or maybe we shouldn’t have had that knee op for mum.
Just shut those thoughts out. YOU are doing your best for your children and your parents. You will always get advice (most of the time it’s free!) as to what you COULD have, SHOULD have, WOULD have. It doesn’t matter. And STOP feeling GUILTY!
- Go out, unwind, feel the rythm and feel the beat
Give yourself a break. You need it. Go to Naivasha for the weekend with a nice book and relax. Being part of the “Sandwich Generation” is stressful – and you probably end up getting irritable and snapping at everyone. A break would do you good.
Spend the afternoon at the spa or go out for lunch with your friends (and don’t keep checking your phone to see if everything is ok!).
Make sure you find time to do things for yourself – take up a hobby or a sport.
Very often when we get frustrated we end up treating our parents like VERY young children – we start fibbing to them and telling them off. Remember, children are the best mimics in the world – they’re watching exactly how you treat your parents. So when your time comes……
Be firm. But be gentle. And let your parents lead a life of dignity.
- Shout out for help
Build a support network – to help you with either or both generations between which you are sandwiched. Try carpooling to avoid frequent school runs or arrange for the school bus. Get friends and family to help out with meals every now and then. They say it takes a village to bring up a child but it also takes a village to care for the elderly.
Living in Kenya we are privileged to have affordable care and help at hand. Make the most of it.
- Slip out and let the other two generations help each other
Give yourself a break – the world won’t end if you do. Let the grandparents bond with the grandkids – chances are they won’t miss you! It will give the grandparents a sense of purpose and belonging and at the same time lets them pass on stories and words of wisdom.
Let grandma pass on that famous family recipe of how to make the best biryani directly to her grandkids. Let your children take grandpa out for a walk or for a coffee. Give them pocket money to incentivise, if necessary.
These are just a few tips. Whilst I appreciate it is NOT easy being sandwiched – count yourself lucky. There are millions out there who lost their parents too young and there are millions who yearn to have children but whose destiny doesn’t have room for them. Take care of those around you, young and old, but make sure you’re taking care of yourself – after all, you are the engine of the family!