Living Life in a Sandwich: What its’ Like to Raise Children and Care for Parents All at Once (Part 4)

When God takes a rib from Adam and forms Eve, he instituted marriage and Moses records these words: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) What I now know is that this doesn’t always mean physical and emotional separation from parents. Joining together of man and wife, yes, but never having a connection to father and mother again, no.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this series (for previous posts in the series go here), my mother’s rapidly progressing dementia led to a permanent move from their home in South Carolina to our home in Tennessee.  Our family of six became a family of eight in a single day, but it didn’t mean more children, but aging parents moved in. There are some big differences.

First, aging parents bring a lot of stuff with them. They’ve been keeping house for over half a century and they have accumulated a lot of things. Babies don’t bring more than a bagful of stuff home from the hospital. Yes, there are some adjustments but it typically doesn’t require a moving truck and a lot of health accommodations.

Second, aging parents have a lot more doctors’ appointments, dietary needs, and medical needs than babies do. Overnight we had to become nurses, pharmacists, and experts in Medicare. Plus, we had to find safe locations for lots of prescriptions.  Actually, there is a lot more to this one but no one has time for that information. Some of it is quite funny and some of it is quite maddening at the same time.

Third, aging parents don’t really know how to stop being parents or how to not be “in charge”. This is not a slight against my parents. It is just a reality. For over two decades, my wife and I had our own household and established our own routines without other adults adding running commentary or being in our home 24/7 and 365 while we try to train and nurture our children…no matter the demeanor or temperament of those involved, this is extremely trying on a daily basis.

Fourth, aging parents who have major financial issues (due primarily to dementia-related problems) create a tremendous strain on a household budget, especially if that budget is already strained due to job changes, moving, and an extra child. Try adding two grown adults with dietary restrictions, medical issues, and multiple financial complications that have to be handled by a family with four growing children. It isn’t pretty people. Thankfully, a number of Christian friends have come to our aid on several occasions to help us navigate these matters.

Fifth, aging parents (when they live with you) severely curtail your family’s freedom to come and go, have private conversations between spouses or parents and children, or even one’s ability to go on vacations, or to get somewhere on time. Please hear me; these are descriptions and not complaints. I’m just trying to paint a clear picture of what it is like to live in the Sandwich Generation. The next time you want to go somewhere for the day, wear whatever you want to around the house, plan a vacation, or have a private conversation, be thankful for that freedom. When your parents move in with you and they cannot fully care for themselves then there is a definite loss of freedom…and sometimes they eat your leftovers from your favorite restaurant. 😉

None of these challenges mean that we wouldn’t do it all again. We have a God-given responsibility to care for our loved ones who cannot care for themselves. We laugh when we can and serve when we must, and give thanks for the little things we once took for granted.

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.