Lessons From a Sandwich-Generation Mom

“Sandwich Mom” got me thinking today.

Today show producer Sara Pines is a single mother caring for a father with dementia. Those of you in similar straights will want to read her post on Maria Shriver’s website.

And the rest of us midlife moms can benefit from it too. Unlike Pines, I have a helpful spouse and am not caring for a parent. Yet her words hit home.

Like many of us, Pines came of age in “the ‘70’s women-can-do-it all culture,” as she puts it. Raised to be independent, she even got pregnant on her own at age 40.

But having a sick father while parenting a 5-year-old daughter has made her realize that the do-it-yourself approach to life is no longer where it’s at.

From the friends in her mommy and dementia support groups to the social workers helping with her dad, others’ aid is now critical. Interdependence, not independence, has become the name of the game. As Pines puts it, “The experience of raising a young child and watching a parent disappear before your eyes has taught me a surprising lesson: how to ask for help.”

Sound familiar?

A New Phase

Many of us spent our first adulthoods seeking independence. I, for one, wanted things my mother never had: an apartment, an advanced degree, a profession, and a solo adventure in a foreign land. And those experiences served me well.

But these days my vaunted independence is about as useful as the wardrobe that went with it. Standing alone won’t help get my child home from school. It can’t provide the scoop on the coach or offer camaraderie on bad mommy days.

For all that I need others. And I need them more than ever before. The carpool parents driving my older daughter, the teacher fostering a love of writing, the school counselor providing advice on the 7th grade social scene – I can’t imagine life without them.

Depending so much on others is a big change when you’re used to flying solo. It took me years to adjust. I’m still not always good at asking for help. Getting to the 7:45 a.m. Parent Network meeting is a stretch.

But making the effort to reach out to others is almost always worthwhile.

The New Call

As a younger adult, my mantra was “Climb Every Mountain.” (Oh the satisfaction of getting to the top on your own, wind in your hair!)

Today, instead, E.M Forster’s line often comes to mind.

“Only connect!”

May we all benefit from our little parenting webs of relatedness. And in the meantime, bravo “Sandwich Mom.” I’m rooting for you.

Are you a sandwich-generation mom? What gets you through the day? Please comment below!

Need guidance dealing with a parent with dementia or Alzheimer’s? Check out The 36-Hour Day. It’s gotten great reviews.

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Photo Credit © Pavel Losevsky/Dreamstime.com

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About Jennifer

A former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Time, Jennifer is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life and pens the MidAge Mom blog.

She’s profiled exceptional women from the Middle East to Latin America. Widely published, her essays have been included in two anthologies.

Jennifer is also a frequent radio and TV guest. Full Bio

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In Beyond One, Jennifer chronicles her leap from one child to two, describing the enormous impact the second child has on a woman’s body, marriage, family life, friendships and work.

"Hull is the kind of woman many moms long to be friends with. . ." -The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Credits

The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Atlantic Monthly, CNN.com, MS., Parenting, Real Simple, Salon.com, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Working Mother, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, American Way, Brain, Child, The Christian Science Monitor, and more.