Jessica is a mum of two. She’s in her thirties and was very career focused prior to becoming a mother. Now, along with juggling the demands of parenting two very young children, she is carer for her elderly father.
Here, Jessica speaks to me about the realities of the huge demands placed upon her and the challenges of being part of the “sandwich generation”
Becoming Dad’s carer….
I’ve been caring for dad probably since the death of my mother over a decade ago. He was very well and independent up until 5 years ago when he had a long spell in hospital following a stroke.
After my mum passed away myself and dad continued living in the family home. I suppose I always felt I had to mind him (and everyone else) as it is in my nature to look after others.
My siblings see my father for a combined amount of 2-3 hours per week. I have to ask for anything else I need help with. Some weeks they’ll cancel and the weeks they do come I always have to check with them what’s happening. If we need a few days break they’ll stay with him but we do need to ask.
What Dad needs…
Supervision is the main one. And constant reassurance.
He wont stay alone at night.
I do the shopping, meals, sort prescriptions, tablets, doctor visits, help him with very simple tasks like turning on the tv & dialling numbers for him on the phone, finding items for him, washing and putting away clothes, tidying room, washing the floor in room, arranging respite and organising everything in relation to it. At weekends I have to wash and dress him along with changing incontinence wear…..its an exhausting list.
The knock on effect on my children…
This upsets me….mainly because they are coming to an age where they want to be out and about and EVERYTHING we do as a family has to be planned around Dad.
They might be crying, looking for my attention and I might be with my dad at the time.
Because its mentally tough going, I might have a short fuse at times and they unfortunately get the brunt of it. My older child has started to say “Mammy what did Grandad do to you?” if he sees me upset.
And on my relationship with my husband…
We have no space or time for ourselves. We can’t ever just go off on a whim…
My partner is a very patient man, but ive seen him getting very stressed about the toll its taking. It’s never been just the two of us since we got married.
Availing of respite…
Dad is under the care of a very good consultant through the public system and they spoke to him about going for respite. He goes but makes it very clear to us that he doesn’t like it!
The biggest challenges…
How long have you got – everything needs to be planned around my dad. I feel the majority of people have no idea what’s involved in our daily lives. I have friends who are more emotionally aware and supportive than anyone else.
Another challenge as I see it, is that my dad was never really there for us as a father figure (that generation maybe?). While he worked hard and we had fun at times, I’ve never had a relationship with my dad the way my husband has with his dad. I was very fortunate to have the best mum on the world and 1-2 very close people who I look up to as parents.
My dad had/has his own issues from his childhood and I now realise this is what possibly has affected the way he relates to his own children. We never experienced abuse in any form, so that’s not what I mean. I just feel emotionally he shows more anger and crossness than love or affection.
The morning of our wedding he cried the whole way to the church. He knew I wasn’t leaving the family home but I suppose he felt he was now going to have to ‘share me’ with my husband.
Not being able to speak about it openly…
Because I dont want to hurt anyone, especially my dad. I know if I said what I really want to say to them, it would cause arguments and that wouldn’t achieve anything. My family could do a lot more. We have had very open meetings about it and while the same issues come up again and again nothing much ever changes.
Whatever they will feel after my dad passes away will not be the same for myself or my husband. We give up everything to look after my dad and while it’s tough, we will always know we did the right thing by him, and my mum. The day before she died she said to all of us “mind your dad” and that is what I am doing.
Getting “me” time…
Only a possibility when he goes to the day centre and respite.
What would make the biggest difference…
The next natural step for dad is to go into long term care -so that would be what makes the difference. I know it might sound cruel but I really feel it’s the way he’s going. He was sick with a chest infection a few weeks ago and I really felt I couldn’t do this much longer. It was not only affecting me, it was affecting my children and husband.
Advice to other members of the “Sandwich Generation”…
Avail of all the professional help that you can via PHN or GP and do it as soon as you begin caring. . Family will only do so much and in general there will always be one person who takes the brunt. I know there’s the carers association too but I haven’t availed of their service – yet!
Because of the line of work I am in, I’m lucky that my friends and colleagues ‘get it”
I felt in a way I was letting him down by accepting external help but a social worker said to me ” respite etc is not for him it’s for you”, and it totally changed my outlook.
*Mary is 37 years old and married to her husband for the past 8 years. They have a 3 and a half year old daughter who means the world to them. Mary works outside the home in a job she describes as not stressful in itself but that has very limited flexibility with employers who are not very understanding when it comes to needing time off – even if her daughter is ill!
Mary finds motherhood incredibly difficult and even goes so far as to describe herself as “not a typical mother”. Here she talks to me about why sometimes she hates being a mother, her difficulty with social media reflections and why she wishes people wouldn’t shame those who don’t conform to type.
I had the perfect pregnancy. No sickness at all. My daughter was born 3 days after her due date. My waters broke naturally in the middle of the night, but labour failed to progress, and I ended up being induced. That didn’t work either, so I had an emergency C-Section. It was very traumatic. For medical reasons, I needed a large amount of pain relief in a very short amount of time. This meant I had really frightening hallucinations after the birth, which left me traumatised, so bad that I ended up having to give my daughter to the nurses for 2 nights as I couldn’t manage. The nurses in the hospital were not very helpful. I was in extreme pain after the c-section. I kept telling them that something wasn’t right, but they fobbed me off by telling me – “its normal after major surgery”.
However, it turned out that I had a problem with my bowel from surgery. A small procedure sorted it out, but I ended up in hospital for about 10 days. I cried every day, but I put it down to the ‘baby blues’.
When baby came home…
On the day we brought baby girl home, I was terrified. I told my husband ‘we need to give her back, we’ll give her up for adoption’. I was dead serious. He laughs now, but at the time I was terrified. I was totally and utterly overwhelmed.
My husband had no extra time off, so he went back to work almost immediately. Every morning when the door would close behind him, I felt so alone. I could see the day stretching out ahead of me, and I would think ‘Another day of this. Another day of being a terrible mother, of struggling through the day, praying for a break’.
I genuinely believed that I was awful at this ‘mothering’ thing. I took things one day at a time, but I hated it. Hated being at home with this newborn who never settled. Hated being such a failure – feeling like she deserved so much better.
I always say that I ‘parented by numbers’ when she was a baby. I fed her at regular intervals, put her down for naps, cuddled her when she needed it, but I couldn’t enjoy it.
Self-loathing set in very early. I would tell me husband ‘that baby won’t settle. She hates me. She doesn’t want me, she wants you/your mother/my mother/anybody else’.
I was frightened all of the time. Frightened about the future. Frightened I couldn’t bond with baby. Frightened my husband would resent me for how I was. I really believed that what I was feeling was real. I believed that I would never bond with Baby. I believed that what I was feeling was just because I wasn’t good at being a mother. My low self-esteem allowed me to feel like that.
As time passed…
As the months went on, baby thrived. She really did. She was a happy, contented, well-fed baby. All developmental milestones were met. I knew I should feel lucky, but I never felt happy.
I even returned to work a month early, which (probably) contributed to having a nervous breakdown a year later.
It would seem obvious to most people, but I had severe post-natal depression. It only got diagnosed when my daughter was maybe 1.5 years old.
I am lucky to have support, even on the days when I didn’t want it. Even on the days when I resented those around me for having a better relationship with my daughter than I had. My mother-in-law was fantastic. My husband was fantastic. Without him, I wouldn’t have got through this.
I still have panic attacks and anxiety. I am still taking anti-anxiety medication. I have to be strict with myself to take 30 minutes by myself every day.
The anxiety has brought on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and that is tough to manage on a day-to-day basis.
If I’ve had a stressful day, I get crippling stomach cramps. I have to get help to look after my daughter. I worry all the time about how I’m going to take care of her if I relapse.
My daily routine…
We get up between 6.30 and 6.45am every day, usually my daughter wakes us.
Husband leaves for work at 7am.
I get daughter ready for school, and drop her to the childminders, who then drop her to school.
I have to be home for 5.30pm every day to collect her. We go straight home and I bath her, give her a light supper and put her to bed for about 7.30pm.
Husband gets home just after that. I spend the rest of the night preparing dinner, lunches and getting everything ready for the next day.
At about 9.30pm, I usually take my 30 minutes time-out with a book, which invariably leads to sleep. Thankfully!!
(No quality time mid-week. Poor daughter only gets an hour with us in the morning, and another short while in the evening before bed).
She is quite a demanding child. Very difficult at times. Most of her behaviour is typical for her age, but she is very clever, and knows how to pull strings/manipulate us. She knows we’re tired. She knows that Daddy is a soft touch.
My little girl…
My daughter is a lovely child. She is extremely intelligent, but quite a quirky child. She says the strangest things – words/phrases/sentences that are beyond her years. She hated hugs and kisses, etc until the last maybe 6 months. Now she is very affectionate.
I do feel that she has sensory issues, but it was been a struggle to get any kind of assessment from health professionals. They say her needs are not severe enough to warrant further investigation at this stage. However, I feel she at least needs some Occupational Therapy, or other kind of Therapy, as she has extreme tantrums/anger/behavioural issues.
Her tantrums involve her screaming at ear-piercing level, sometime for 30 minutes. Lately, she throws things across the room when she is angry. On the bad days, when she’s tired, etc, we sometime avoid bringing her anywhere where she might get overwhelmed. That’s how we manage our own stress, I suppose. When we just can’t take another tantrum because we’re exhausted, we have to think carefully about where we go as a family.
It has gotten slightly better the older she gets, she is less sensitive to certain places , but when she was aged 1-3, I couldn’t bring her to indoor play centres (Too noisy ,too much stimulation), restaurants (She hates being tied down or strapped in to high-chairs, etc), or any organised activity where there would be loads of kids. It was all just too much for her.
Now I feel like the luckiest woman in the world, when it comes to my daughter and husband. She and I have the loveliest bond. I can’t wait to get home from work every day just to see her smiling face. There are days when I think I’ll never forget what I went through. But there are also days when I feel like I can take on the world. Because going through it makes you tougher when you come out the other side.
I often wonder would I be this stressed and anxious if the birth had been less stressful, and if I felt supported in the immediate aftermath during my stay in hospital. Neither my husband and I slept for those nights I spent in hospital. Because I was in pain, and probably a bit demanding, and because they had to look after baby for me in the hospital, I just felt that the nursing staff treated me horribly. They felt that I was a trouble-maker. At least that’s how they treated me. They even conducted a ‘questionnaire’ on me one day – they got one of the lesser known managers of the ward to pose as an ‘Independent’ Auditor of their services. I only discovered some weeks later when I met the Obstetrician that the ‘survey’ did not exist. He had never heard of this lady, or the audit she was purporting to carry out!
They also told me that I would not be able to care for a baby when I got home. That I was oblivious to how hard it was going to be. Why would a nurse professional tell a new mother this??? When I started crying, they told me they thought I “almost certainly had mental health issues”. They even asked me if I would consent to a Psychiatric evaluation before I was discharged.
Believe me, although I was depressed, they definitely made me worse. They also only conducted these little chats/interviews/audits on me when I was on my own. They always waited until my husband had gone home.
Anyway, I feel that the situation in hospital made an already life-changing time much, much worse.
I also feel that new mothers should have counselling offered to them in the weeks after they give birth. This may help to recognise PND earlier.
I also didn’t feel that the Public Health Nurse was much good. She was covering for another PHN, and seemed like she didn’t have much time to spend with us.
However, I really feel that society has us conditioned to believe we must be ‘perfect’ when we have a baby. That we must do things a certain way, and no way are we supposed to complain about the experience. No way are we permitted to talk about how tired we are. No way are we permitted to say how little we’re actually enjoying the ‘precious time’ with a newborn.
Before “becoming mum”…
I was a fiercely independent person before I had my daughter. I loved my own space, I loved being able to flit off on a weekend away anytime I like. My whole life was impromptu lunches, impromptu nights out. I thrived on the last minute-ness of it all.
Then along came baby. Maybe it was because I wasn’t what you’d call a ‘young’ mother. Maybe because I had reached my 30s, I had it all worked out, or so I thought. My husband and I were settled, we had a lovely life, we had our own little bubble of nights out, romantic nights in, trips abroad, etc. And then overnight, it all changed, and in the most traumatic way possible.
Now don;t get me wrong – we LOVE LOVE LOVE our girl. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle. Every. Day.
I’m not a typical mother. Sometimes I hate being a mother, but thankfully those days are few. But I’m not the mother gushing about her kids. I’m the one talking about my struggles. And that’s not the done thing in this country.
Having another child…
I am TERRIFIED of getting pregnant again. I wouldn’t be the pushover and the nervous mother I was, but I would be terrified of getting PND again. However, I think I’d still do it if the urge was strong enough.
My advice to others who feel the same…
Talk to your GP. I am very lucky in that I found a wonderful straight-talking GP.
Also- if someone told me that they felt like I did – I would tell them in no uncertain terms that they were wonderful. That their baby loves them, just as they are. I would tell them to talk to their GP, and I would even offer yo mind the baby, or go with them to the GP.
Women need to talk more. But not about how perfect their lives are. About how shit they are feeling.
And we need to stop shaming mothers who don’t conform to this perfect stereotype. Social Media is a useful tool when you’re at home with a newborn and you’re lonely. However it is also dangerous, when all you see is images of perfect mothers holding perfect babies.
I was TOTALLY and utterly unprepared for motherhood. Ante-natal classes should show you pictures of a c-section scar, pictures of a baby with poo running up its back. They should prepare you more for the fact that your life is going to irrevocably change, at least for 2 years or so.
*Mary’s name has been changed to protect both her and her family’s identity.
The good weather continues and the form is good with most of the children. We’re winging our way towards the end of yet another school year and the end of an era for one child, as the remaining days left in primary school can now be counted on one hand. He’s not as emotional about it as I am.
Homework has eased up and so have the resulting arguments. Today it was straight into shorts and t-shirts at hometime and outside to bounce on the trampoline, play football and soak each other, and my washing, with water guns. My daughter meanwhile, in sophisticated teenager style, spent the day at Costa del Irish Beach, no doubt wearing nowhere as much suncream as I would like.
And there was no homework, which I know I have said already, but which made my heart feel so light, that I feel it deserves another mention.
Life of course is all about balance and with the yin of the sunshine, no homework and obligatory ice-cream, came the yang of the contents of today’s post. School reports and secondary school booklists. One appears, in between the positives, to highlight your inadequacies as a parent, while the other blatantly highlights the inadequacies of your bank account. Yang momentarily, held the balance of power.
Until a former colleague came bearing gifts.
I recently retired from the Greystone’s Irish Coast Guard Unit. Child number seven proved to be the straw that finally broke the, already seriously compromised, camel’s back. It was a really difficult decision, in spite of the realities of my situation,. As my numbers grew, attendance became more of a challenge, but I was lucky to have had some of the most supportive, kind, inclusive, caring friends and colleagues within the Unit. It takes a special sort of person to be a Volunteer and the Coast Guard is filled with these special and selfless people.
And so I bid adieu to a very important part of my life. It was an honour and a privilege to have been part of such a terrific unit and such a special service. Today, Ciaran arrived and presented me with my ten year service certificate and a beautiful commemorative 1916 medal, and the tears started – again.
I handed over my pager, still tearful, but in my head I was Arnie, whispering “I’ll be back” (One day, I hope.)
It comes around just once a year,
A day of celebration,
And recognition of all that mums do,
Beginning with creation,
Though granted, they didn’t do it alone,
The dads made a contribution,
But it’s not the men who are pregnant 9 months
Coping with added weight distribution,
Till the end of gestation when baby emerges
Through a design, quite flawed by dimension
Think melon and nostril and you’ll get the picture,
And the pain’s probably also worth a mention,
Or out through the tummy, a passage created,
With the flick of the surgeons sharp knife
Means a longer recovery, but baby’s here safely,
And the scar fades a lot through your life,
The sleepless nights follow, the boobs grow impressive,
To proportions never imagined before,
And the nappies keep coming, and the teething and tantrums
Toddler terrors, threenagers and more,
Cut knees to be treated and bumps to be kissed,
The scrapes keep a coming no matter
As the walls they are scaled and the trees, just a challenge,
And your furniture is left all a tatter,
Redesigned kitchen walls, and phones down the toilet,
Surprises, you find every day,
Need to hide all your treats, cos the kids they can sense them,
And eat them all, much to your dismay,
Then there’s homework and projects, all needing attention,
But kids are resisting so much,
And you feel you’ll go crazy, as battles continue,
Over English and Maths and all such,
But on mothering Sunday, all is forgotten,
You’ll think of how lucky you are,
When the cards are presented, and the pictures drawn carefully
Loving messages sent from afar,
Cause no matter our age, or the age of our children,
A mum knows how lucky she is
Though the hours are long and the terms need some tweaking,
We know being a mum is the biz.
Still on mothering Sunday, appreciation is welcomed,
And mums could all do with a rest
It’s just twenty four hours in a very long year,
So enjoy it mums, cos you’re the best!
Just thought I’d drop you a line ahead of tiny people taking up residence in your womb. I hope you’re keeping well. All is good this side of the timeline. Exhaustion is a bit of an on-going issue, but you get used to it, and sometimes in all the madness of life, sleep deprived delirium can even be a bonus.
Hope you’re enjoying some carefree wild nights with your friends. Still a total night owl here, but the rave moves have become more of the “swaying the baby to sleep kind” and the attire is now less about displays of pert, voluptuous cleavage and more about the support and easy access to sometimes melon proportioned breasts for night feeds.
Enjoy all the latest cinema releases. While now you may hold an opinion on all the Oscar nominated and winning movies, in the years to come if it’s not made by Pixar or Disney, you won’t have seen it – over and over and over again.
Go out while you can, anywhere, everywhere, whenever, without the military preparation required to take a small person and half the house with you. Visit friends and family while they still smile happily to see you arrive rather than stare at you with a look of terror as you unload the troops from the car.
Wear crop tops more often. Your tummy is going to look a LOT different in years to come. Whether it’s sunny, blowing a gale, raining, snowing or -10, show off your stomach, while you can …sob.
Take long showers and lather yourself in luxurious smellies while treating your glossy locks to some hair masks. The day will come when you’ll shower with just one leg in the cubicle as you strain to hear if your baby is crying and your hair will be washed with baby shampoo, or maybe just liquid
soap – assuming you have time to wash it at all that is.
Enjoy life and don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s a whole load of small stuff, of the human variety, coming your way, that’ll really give you plenty to sweat about.
Oh and don’t buy that beige couch. You’ll have to replace it in late 2001, after an unfortunate Ribena incident.
Valentine’s is here again,
And love is in the air,
There’s gifts exchanged of chocolate
And flowers and underwear
And soppy cards, with romantic rhymes,
That detail endless love,
To darling partners everywhere,
Alleged angels from above,
But let’s be honest, things really change
When children come along,
It’s a different romance that us mums need
A change from the familiar song
Of “Mammy mammy where are you,
I spilt my juice on the floor,
Please wipe my bum, and find my shoes
Oh mammy my knee is sore!
I need new pencils by tomorrow
My viking project is due
We need to bake cakes for Friday’s sale
And I’ve run out of all my glue
I’ve had a bad dream, can I sleep in your bed?
Oh now I need a drink,
Mammy quick, the fairy won’t come
My tooth’s fallen down the sink!”
So darling partners everywhere,
In this romantic season,
Just think of how you can show your love,
For no particular reason,
And see to the kids when they are calling
And let their mammy sleep,
Clean all the bums, and do the projects
And you’ll be one to keep.
And even if you’re a hero already
And everything is fine
Buy something special to treat your dearest
A practical gift, like wine!
Being a mum is wonderful. Yes it teaches you about a love like no other and yes it is one of life’s greatest privileges – but let’s be honest, it’s also bloody hard work. It’s all consuming, requires an element of omnipresence and the pay and holiday entitlements leave a lot to be desired!
All is changed, changed utterly – to somewhat paraphrase (and completely take out of context) a wise fella. While life might never quite be the same again, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to be gained from our new found role. With that in mind, here is my own personal A-Z of motherhood.
A is for arguments. A daily occurrence about homework, putting underwear in the wash-basket, pokemon, who breathed on who, whose turn it is to pick something up off the floor and who left the top off the milk. The choice and subjects are endless and plentiful and require superbly honed and finely tuned negotiation skills. In the interest of maintaining some shred of your sanity, pick your battles – cos you can’t pick theirs!
B is for Basket, namely the wash one, virtually unrecognisable to underwear-wearing youngsters.
C is for cuts, from paper to impressive – all inducing the same levels of hysteria and convictions that the limb is unsavable
D is for dinnertime. That time of day when in theory we sit down together and have a chat but in reality mop up three glasses of milk, clean up a bowl of dinner that has just hit the floor and get called to deal with a bum that needs wiping.
E is for efficiency. It’s quite amazing how much you can achieve in a limited amount of time. From making your house semi-presentable in ten minutes flat because a visitor is on the way to scoffing as many cookies as possible because the kids’ antennae have gone up. Us mothers are masters of the apparently unachievable!
F is for forgetfulness, a new found state of mind. Why I did I go upstairs? Why am I sitting in a parked car outside my son’s Montessori on a Saturday? What are my kids’ names? Rather than feel defeated I prefer to view the latter as a descriptive vocabulary-enhancing exercise. “You with the curly hair, green eyes, girl child” etc has to suffice largely these days!
G is for goals, personal by nature and changing by the day. Monday’s goal is usually to have a good week with calm vibes and positive interactions. Friday’s goal is to get through the day without yet another banshee impression and counting down the hours to wine o’clock.
H if for hungry, which my kids always are, unless something suspiciously healthy looking is offered.
I is for infinite – the amount of patience required for the job!
J is for just about. My kids answer for everything from “Are you dressed yet” to “is your homework done?” Experience has taught me that “just about “really means, “I’m actually off doing something else other than that”!
K is for our king sized bed which feels remarkably small by the time the approximately 25 children have joined us throughout the night.
L is for love, which I never really knew the true meaning of before these little terrors came into my life.
M is for mouthguards, which seem to disappear into thin air in this house and whose disappearance I’m only ever made aware of, right before a match or training.
N is for No which my children seem to interpret as “lets ask her another 50 times and she might change her mind, or failing that, lets ask dad”
O is for obstacles, a mere challenge to be overcome for a walking wobbler, who audibly laughs at your attempts to keep him from danger and seem to prove much more fun than his mountain of toys.
P is for poo in its many colours, forms and textures. Just part of daily life and conversations now!
Q is for quiet which should always arouse extreme suspicion.
R is for robust which thankfully kids are. Bumps, bruises and relatively minor trauma is quickly and completely forgotten by them as toys, games and cartoons take over. We on the other hand beat ourselves up for the hours, days and weeks that follow!
S is for sleep. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha ‘Nuff said
T is for the toilet, the most likely place to find missing house-keys, mobile phones, toothbrushes, teddies and breakfast waffles.
U is for unexplained and suspicious looking marks everywhere. Is it snot? Crayon? Food? and please God let that be chocolate…….
V is for vegetables, depending on the kid, considered equal to offering them poison.
W is for wipes, a mum’s best friend that can clean anything and is the 21st century’s answer to spitting on a tissue.
X is for x- ray. The more kids you have, the more time you’ll spend in this department. Have your lead apron ready!
Y is for yesterday, when it feels like they were born. Time goes so fast and when school is added to the equation and you’re living by the school timetable, it seems to go even faster – unfortunately.
Z is for zucchini which is either a fruit or a vegetable and which I’ve never eaten but my six year old told me about it.