Susan was completely exhausted. She felt as if she was caught in a raging whirlpool, fighting to keep her nose above water, but feeling as if she was being drawn rapidly under. There seemed to be no help in sight.
Her father was becoming difficult to manage. Ever since her mother had passed away several years ago, her father's health had declined. He was always overweight and had slightly elevated blood pressure, but lately, things were different. He was becoming forgetful. He did not take his health or his medications seriously and was eating all the wrong things. Also, Susan was fearful that his driving was becoming worse. He was less tolerant of other drivers, and his eyesight was diminishing.
To make matters worse, Susan was beginning to spend more time with her father than with her own family. Her three children needed her, and yet, after driving her father to his myriad doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands, she just had no more of her left to give.
And now her marriage was in trouble. She and her husband had grown apart. They barely spoke. The children could do nothing right, and her husband was of little help. She resented his ability to work outside of the home, his freedom to come and go as he pleased, and above all, the time he was able to spend with the children while she was away caring for her father.
Of course, by the time the children were asleep, she could think of nothing better than to crawl under the bedcovers and collapse in sheer exhaustion.
Susan, an adult child, is a member of the "sandwich generation," caught between the demands of household, family, growing children, and the needs of aging parents. Along with membership in this exclusive club comes the requisite feelings of guilt about thoughts of not doing enough for loved ones. The frustration brought on by aging parents who are not ready to give up the freedom to live independently, drive a car, and come and go as they please, can seem impossible.
If you are feeling like Susan, don't despair. You are now becoming a part of a process that will require cooperation and organization: cooperation with family and extended family; and organization of family needs, the needs of your aging parents, and of course, planning time for you. With your family and parents' help, you must also define what is best for everyone--and you must put yourself on top of this list. If you do not care for yourself first, you will be unable to summon enough energy to care for others. In the words of the airlines: "Put your mask on first, and then you can help others."
Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Are you better at emotional support but horrible as a financial manager? Are you more capable of researching and comparison shopping but balk at the thought of visiting a doctor or healthcare facility? Your weaknesses, maybe someone else's strengths. You must learn to delegate, compromise, and negotiate.
Gather personal information about your parents, including Social Security numbers, bank accounts; insurance coverage; financial means; names, and a list of any medications. Start networking with senior citizen organizations regarding transportation, support services, health care, respite care, senior centers, and other seniors' help.
Remember that this is a difficult time for your parents as well. The last thing a parent wants is to be a burden to their children. Take a deep breath, and another. Strengthen your own support system including seeking counseling for yourself if needed; give hugs to your family; and learn to be forgiving—especially of yourself. You cannot be everything to everybody.
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Barbara Freedman. All Rights Reserved.