Living Life in a Sandwich: What it’s Like to Raise Children and Care for Parents All at Once (Part 3)

I’m a Mama’s boy. It’s not that I didn’t spend time with Dad growing up or didn’t like him, I did. I’m just claiming reality in stating, “I’m a Mama’s boy.”

I’m the baby of the family. Mom and Dad had four children by the time Mom was 25 years old. I came along 5 years later. Yes, I was a surprise to everyone. Mom freely admits that she cried for six months of her pregnancy with me. However, we established a special bond early. Certainly because I am the best-looking, smartest, and wealthiest one of my siblings (If that was ever the case, it was a fleeting moment when the other four had the flu or something). Still, in her eyes, I have great value. She’s been my cheerleader, confidant, and counselor….that’s what a mother is supposed to be for her children. I miss those days. Mom is still a cheerleader, but she doesn’t really know why. She’s still a confidant, but doesn’t remember what I tell her. She’s still a counselor, but she doesn’t understand what I am saying.

Dementia destroys more than brain cells. It robs the one who has it of their dignity and their discernment. My Mom is very much still alive physically and I am so, so, so grateful for that fact. However, I grieve daily (often with tears) that she can’t fully be a mother or grandmother like she was even four or five years ago. She still loves deeply but she’s incapable of doing most of the things she once did. Instead of helping, she needs to be helped. Instead of watching her grandchildren, she needs to be watched.

A few months after Dad and Mom moved in with us, my Mom and our youngest child went missing. We searched frantically throughout the house because it was already pitch-black dark outside and we were sure they weren’t outside. When they didn’t turn up inside, I ran outside and started calling (We live on a heavily forested property and my mind was racing). Turns out, they were on the trampoline…in the dark…one 77-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl…alone. They had slipped outside unnoticed and they were on the trampoline, in the dark, alone! This was the beginning of their mischievous partnership.

Whatever Emory wants Emory gets. All she has to do is find Grandmama when someone else tells her “no”. While she was always a doting grandmother, this is another level…a frightening one for us. Emory is maturing mentally and starting to pass my Mom. While this brings about some rather comical scenarios, it also ratchets up the parenting stress around our house.

It isn’t uncommon to find Mom and her 3-year-old granddaughter sitting in the floor together eating chocolate toaster pastries or sharing a large bag of candy. This is challenging, but you can chuckle about it most of the time. It’s the fact that they venture off together or go into other rooms and play with things they shouldn’t that make us stay awake at night. The alert level stays heightened most days.

Yes, raising children and caring for aging parents is something you cannot understand if you don’t live it. I’ve got a lot more to talk about in upcoming posts as I share more of our story. Until then, relish your relationships that you still have and cherish every moment.

One more thing, save the trampoline for the daytime…or at least let someone know you’re headed outside.

Timothy (Tim) Gunnells started his blog "Desert Spiritual" while living and ministering in the desert in Arizona. He knows the world in which we live is a "dry and weary land where is no water" and souls are thirsting for God (Psalm 63:1).Tim currently lives with his family in East Tennessee. He is available for retreats, leadership development seminars, and church consulting. He enjoys hiking, singing, spending time with his family and friends, and blogging about Christian spirituality, culture, and life in general. He may be reached at timothygunnells@gmail.com.