Released On 24th Jan 2022
Linda's blog: Stuck in The Middle
"I feel like a limp lettuce" I said to my friend. We were sharing our worries about our parents and the realisation that we are now firmly in the sandwich generation, taking on increasing responsibility for our parents whilst still being responsible for our children.
Over the last few years, probably highlighted by the longer gaps between seeing them, we've noticed our 3 remaining parents getting older and I've found it hard to accept that our roles are changing as their age has started to show.
Spending time with the grandparents is now different - gone are the long active days out and in their place, a short walk to the local park is only just about manageable. The trouble is, this is not enough to keep the children entertained - I'm sure I'm not alone having kids with so much energy they need to be regularly exercised (it would surely be easier to wear out a dog?) And so we find ourselves masters of diplomacy, trying to balance the grandparents' wish to be involved and do things together, against the reality that they can no longer keep up - a reality they refuse to accept or admit.
These challenges have been put into perspective by much more acute worries about my Dad who is waiting for a hip replacement. Having started voicing our concerns about his lopsided gait 3 years ago, my siblings and I raised it on and off and eventually gave up. He was first insistent that nothing was wrong and then that it wasn't serious enough to be looked at. Then Covid hit and it was the perfect (and understandable) excuse for not going into a hospital and in any case, he was adamant that there was no point starting the process because the operation would be cancelled.
Meanwhile I worried about how lonely he was as his reduced mobility limited more and more of his already limited social activities. No longer able to take enjoyment from walks, visiting galleries or going to his local pub, he was spending more and more time alone, often not leaving the house for days. If he doesn't reply to a message or call relatively quickly I imagine he's fallen over and I'm wondering if now's the time to set up a daily call to ensure that if he falls he isn't left stuck on the ground for an indefinite period, unable to summon help.
In addition to feeling worried and helpless (I live a 4 hour drive away), I often feel frustrated. My Dad isn't my child: I can't tell him what to do and whilst he still has his own mind (and long may that last), he has to have freedom to deal with things his way. But his logic now often seems flawed (he initially refused to carry a stick and eventually carried a folding one in a rucksack) and it's harder to have a reasoned discussion with him as his views have become more entrenched. I find it unsettling that my Dad is now doing and saying things I remember my grandparents doing and saying, especially as I know how frustrated he was with them at the time. I find myself flipping from listening mode, to solution mode (he always has a reason why my solutions will not work), to silence, to firmly making my point and then feeling guilty for being the bad cop. Throughout this I update my sisters who are supportive but on the other side of the world. On and on the cycle goes.
While we wait for his operation my sisters and I have attempted to find out what my Dad has done or bought to help him prepare for the operation and recover afterwards. "It's all in hand" was all he would say. When I finally pressed him and asked him direct questions it became clear that his idea of "all in hand" is having an idea in his head. When he finally asked if I could take him to hospital, collect him and be around for a week, my husband and I worked out how we could make that work but then my Dad changed his mind and said he'll make plans and I don't need to do anything. So, having reiterated what I can do in an email so there's no misunderstanding, I'm leaving him to it, worrying as I wait on the sidelines and anticipating a call which will require me to make a last minute dash to help.
My very wise and measured husband keeps reminding me to focus only on the things I can control. Easier said than done but he is of course right! My goal is to get to the point where I feel more like the strong flavoured robust cheese in this sandwich. All being well, I hope to be in it for some years yet. Tips on how to achieve this will be gratefully received!
Linda is a lawyer who has two primary school-age children. She and her husband work full time and juggle the school run and everything else between them.