‘We Get to Love the People in Our Lives’
When caught between raising kids and caring for an elderly mom — this dad had a choice
A guy once said to me, “Life is like a sandwich. The more bread you have, the less $#%!*@ you have to eat.”
This rather indecorous, if utterly accurate, truism came to mind recently.
My mother, who is 80, has Alzheimer’s disease and has limited mobility due to a stroke. She fell off her chair and literally could not get up.
After I helped her get back into her chair, I ended up spending much of the day with her. Throughout that day, she and I faced one trial after another. She had enormous challenges just moving around. We struggled together — but I was by her side, and that was what mattered.
While I was with her, one of my sons was running, landed hard — and broke his left hand.
They call those of us with young kids and aging parents the sandwich generation. That’s the sandwich I’m in. And just for that one day, it was a really rotten sandwich.
It’s frustrating when you cannot do as much as you would like for the ones you love.
Actually, there was something. We decided to move to a bigger place — and moved my mom in with us. She was on board and is happy with the arrangement. The way things are, it was either that or put her in a home, and she didn’t want that and neither did I.
But that does nothing to alleviate the underlying issues — the Alzheimer’s, the stroke.
I cannot revise history. I can only deal with it in the best way possible.
Likewise, with my son, I can empathize. I can bring him Advil. I can buy him extra stuff. But I cannot turn the clock backward to the moment just before he fell and broke his hand. I cannot revise history. I can only deal with it in the best way possible.
People have talked for a long time about helicopter parents — those who lurk, check out their kids’ social media, call 10 times a day, hover over every move.
I don’t think I’m that kind of parent. I stay out of my kids’ rooms as if those rooms were radioactive (which maybe they are).
There’s another kind of parent I just heard described — the snowplow parent.
Snowplow parents constantly clear a path for their children, so the children don’t have to face the consequences of their actions. Guilty.
I don’t think I cross the line into true snowplow parenthood, but most people who do cross the line don’t think do. Hmm.
There’s a wonderful truism I heard, which — unlike the truism with which this piece began — contains no expletives. It goes as follows:
“We cannot help anyone with whom we are emotionally involved. The proof is that anyone we’ve tried to help, with whom we are emotionally involved, is probably worse off today than the day we started trying to help them.”
I can’t “help” my mother’s Alzheimer’s or the limited mobility that resulted from her stroke.
I cannot “help” my son’s broken hand heal.
I cannot do anything other than love them and show up for them, and hurt when they hurt. I cannot do anything other than be there, and be supportive, and be a shoulder to lean on in every way possible. I cannot do anything other than offer my true self to them — and help what I can help them with and listen to their woes, their concerns, their cares, and their cries.
Sometimes, being part of the sandwich generation really feels like the sandwich I mentioned a moment ago.
But if we were put on earth to love and serve, it doesn’t mean we get to dictate the health and well-being of the people we love.
We do get to love them — and that has to be enough.
Twelve-time national best-seller Michael Levin runs Business Ghost, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten memoirs and business books. He has four children.