Parenting in my shoes – I am part of the ‘Sandwich Generation’

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.

Sibling support…

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.
*Jessica’s name has been changed.