Daughter, mother, me…
My friend Alana and I became parents at the same time, learning the ropes from books, each other and our own families. For many years we never got to finish a conversation as babies and toddlers pulled at our legs and knocked over our tea. But ten years later, we still meet regularly with our 5 combined children, with the knowledge we still might not al-ways know what we’re doing, but at least we can now finish our tea and conversation! Dur-ing those early years, Alana blogged about her successes and struggles as a parent. But four days after the birth her third baby, her mum had a stroke and needed full-time care. That baby (my god-daughter Ruby!) started school recently but her mum remains the same. Alana has now written a moving and inspiring book about her ‘Sandwich Years’, caught up in the maelstrom of need, caring for the two ends of her love life – her parents and her children. It’s really worth a read! Cheers, Liza.
My sandwich years arrived by ambulance one September night. But for many others, it can be a slower, less dramatic process. You are caring for your children and you think your parents are caring for you. But slowly you discover they need more from you and in a gradual process you switch roles of cared for and carer. As you are pulled in opposite directions, it can leave you pulling your hair out, and reaching for the wine bottle! Everyone needs you, and all you need is a holiday.
A recent study by Trinity College Dublin revealed that a third of all women in Ireland are considered the Sandwich Generation, with both living parents and children. As trends continue for later parenting and longer life expectancy, we are seeing a generation of women caught in a boiling pot of pressure that can leave us overworked, overextended, overstressed and over a barrel.
Coming to terms with the role-reversal of caring for your parent, figuring out the practical issues of care while coping with the emotional fallout of grief and fear, while also juggling your own family and career needs, can make the Sandwich Years very challenging. Most of the time I felt like a limp petrol-station pre-wrap – looking tired with not a lot of relish!
We women are good at guilt, and revel in responsibility but during the sandwich years, the demands on our time, the emotional wringing out, the guilt at feeling you are constantly short-changing someone, can be overwhelming. When the two bookends of our lives need us at the same time, we have little choice but to slot in between. Our parents may need us, and for all kinds of reasons – mental deterioration, physical illness, or just old age – but the pain of grieving while dealing with the grim reality of their diminishing life is a challenge few of us can ever be prepared for.
As women I feel we are often living under a variety of labels (and sadly for most of us, not the designer kind!): daughter, single girl, wife, career woman, mother. I had worn them all and, while life was hectic, I was the one in control. Then when mum had her stroke every-thing changed in an instant. I found myself both grieving for and caring for my beloved mum, supporting my dad, raising my three young daughters, while trying to get my career back on track. Not surprisingly, the cracks began to show. I discovered that, sometimes, having it all means doing it all and that, amid the maelstrom of need, I had lost the label I had started out with: me. Daughter, Mother, Me: A memoir of love, loss and dirty dishes is my story through the sandwich years and how amid child-care and parent-care I finally learned the importance of self-care.
Daughter, Mother, Me: A memoir of love, loss and dirty dishes is published by Hachette Books Ireland and is available in all good bookshops and on Amazon.