The Sandwich Generation is a generation of people who care for their ageing parents while supporting their own children. I am officially in a sandwich.
I am not an old parent but I am not a young parent. What I am is a parent of a parent. Already feels like that. My mother lives 10,000 km away on another continent, but from so far away, I have to look after her.
For many years I lived in the same town as she did and it was a bit easier. I could visit, I could pay the bills, I could see the doctor, and I could monitor her progress as she cared for her partner who had progressive Alzheimer’s. I could be the Mom.
Since I moved so far away things have not been as easy. Luckily with technology I am able to phone her often, and help with financial transactions through Internet banking. I am able to contact doctors through email, and pay for medication electronically. We are lucky to have these technological advances to aid us in caring for and managing our elderly parents.
All that being said, this was not a position I ever saw myself in. I did not see myself in my 40s needing to bring in a salary, in order to pay out that salary half to my mother, and half to my children, leaving nothing for myself or my partner. I did not see the complications of old age and the illnesses it brings. I did not know that this duty would fall upon me at such a relatively young age. I did not realise that I would not be able to save for my own pension because I was paying out my entire salary to my aged parent, who had not provided for her pension. I did not understand that I would feel such a large sense of duty.
Whilst I dutifully fulfil my obligations, there are times when I feel frustrated, angry, and unhappy that this responsibility has fallen upon my shoulders. I feel that I have been taken advantage of. I feel that my mother should have prepared for herself when she worked, and that she should have looked after her finances better in order to not be a burden on anybody else. I feel that my father should have provided better for her in their divorce settlement.
Most of all I am terrified that because I am not providing for my pension due to my mother’s needs, I will be seeing the same situation with my children and they will have to provide for me, which is, I understand, an extremely vicious circle and one I am not keen to create.
The burden I have is made much larger by the fact that my older sister refuses to help in the caretaking of my mother. She and my mother had a falling out many years ago and for approximately 18 years have had very little contact. Thus the responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders, my salary, and my ability to make sure that my mother does not end up destitute. My mother lives in a country where government help is non-existent, when medical care is extremely bad unless you are a very rich, where the poor are destitute and the rich are protected. She falls squarely on the side of the poor, unless she has my help.
As my mother is in her 70s and relatively young—genetically speaking—in the context of my family, I find myself panicking as to how I shall provide for her for the next 20 years. These are the 20 years during which I should be saving so that my children don’t have to look after me. I find myself wondering what I should do in order to make her comfortable and me stable. And I don’t have any solutions. I don’t have any answers. I feel like I don’t have any hope.
In life many people don’t explain to you the realities of what you may encounter. Nobody tells you that child rearing is the hardest job you will ever do. Nobody tells you that corporate life is unfair and often very manipulative. Nobody tells you that you will lose best friends for silly reasons. Nobody tells you how to prepare for the future. And certainly nobody tells you that you will have to look after your parents for far longer than they looked after you. These are the Sandwich Years for me and I am the piece of ham between the ‘rock’ and the ‘hard place’.
Despite all this I repeat to myself the good old British motto “Keep Calm and Carry on” as I plan for the future, as I worry about the past, and as I look at my children laughing, and know that for a short while, for a short time, for a short period, they can enjoy a free existence and a very happy and healthy childhood. And that I will help them have that for as long as I possibly can.