One of the most important commandments we uphold as Jewish people is to honor our fathers and mothers. We Jews are pretty good at that one. It is something that is ingrained in us from when we are very young and stays with us throughout our lives, shaping our thoughts and beliefs and is at the core of our moral essence.
How we honor our mothers and fathers is interwoven in many aspects of our lives, but what I wanted to write about in this column is how to handle caring for our aging parents while we are also trying to care for our children and teenagers as well. Many of us are part of a very real and often difficult to deal with “sandwich generation.” Frequently, it is hard to reconcile the needs of our own families with those of our parents, and there is only so much of us to go around, especially when dealing with limited time, limited financial resources and a lot of stress.
My mom is almost 90 years old and lives here in Irvine in a wonderful senior living community, but that does not mean that I am not faced with the sometimes daunting responsibility of taking care of her needs. From picking up her medications and driving her to many medical appointments to spending time with her, the time and attention necessary often are time consuming and are sometimes difficult to reconcile with the needs of my own busy family. As our parents age and lose their independence, they become more dependent on us, not just physically, but emotionally. When you add helping out financially to this mix, it is often overwhelming.
It can be extremely stressful to deal with so many competing needs and to handle everything that needs to be handled and sometimes can lead to feelings of guilt and resentment as well. I’m not an expert on how best to deal with these issues as they are very pertinent to me right now, but I am learning and here are some things I can share:
1 We are not alone. Maybe everyone is not talking about it, but there are many of us who are faced with the same things. It really does help to talk about it with others in the same life situation, to share ideas and information.
2 There are many people with experience and a background in this who are there to help; we just need to ask. Some good sources would be our clergy, Jewish Federation & Family Services, private therapists and psychologists and several agencies that I have yet to explore, such as the Orange County Caregiver Resource Center.
3 Having conversations with our parents is important. No one wants to talk about the hard stuff like dying, end-of-life care and other such topics, but it is crucial that their wishes be made known and that they know we are listening to them and will honor their preferences. Really talking to our parents can also help identify the issues and help us work through them. They don’t want to be a burden to us any more than we want them to be, and we certainly don’t want them feeling like they are. Sometimes it may help just to talk to your parents about how difficult it is to juggle their needs with the needs of your family and try to work out a good solution. Our elders have a lot of wisdom and experience, and their advice may be helpful.
4 Remember that everything we are doing for and with our parents is being observed by our children, and we are setting the example for how they will behave in the future as they become adults. I try to remember this as I lose patience with my mom when answering her tenth phone call of the day. I try not to let the exasperation show in my voice, knowing that my kids will learn from this and how I treat my mom is how they will likely end up treating ME in the future!.
5 We should not be afraid to ask for help when we need it. Contrary to how it sometimes feels, it is not a sign of weakness. No one is expected to be able to do it all.
6 Most importantly, we must take care of ourselves. We are not helpful to anyone, whether it be our parents, our kids or our spouses when we are not in top shape, so we must remember to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and relax. A
Barbara Boarnet is a freelance writer, attorney, former PTA president, Hadassah member, wife and mother of three teenagers.