Monday, September 15, 2008

Stuck in the Middle, but Still Smiling

Stuck in the Middle, but Still Smiling

Where it all began, May, 2005: After years of teaching about, counseling with and writing about them, I've become one. One of the people stuck in the middle - the "sandwich generation," we so fancifully call them.

In addition to the challenges we face raising three teenage daughters, my husband and I are now helping BOTH of our parents make a well-considered change in their living circumstances - hopefully before something happens that forces this change.

Both my husband's and my parents are getting to the point where if one little thing happens, staying in their own homes will not be an option. You know them - the people who, at age 92, are still "several years" away from needing to move from their home. We're encouraging them both to move into a retirement community that offers them all the benefits that they don't have in their isolated lives at home.

Of course, they've been balking - big time. We decided to use a little psychology – always a good thing when you’re the ones plastered in the middle – and we convinced each set of parents that we needed their help getting the other set of parents to agree to a move. Each set thinks the other “really needs to move!”

When we finally got both sets of folks to agree to tour – together - a beautiful, new retirement community close to our home, it took about a month to set a date convenient to all - and that's after two cancellations. Then, when we arrived, both my mother and mother-in-law stood there with jaw set, saying, "No way are we moving in here with these old people!"

By the end of the tour (three hours later), they had softened, and realized that this could actually be fun - a good thing!

Of course now they want to tour several other communities to comparison shop, and of course, they want us to come with them. We, who have SO much extra time in our lives!

Then there are the kids: our eldest away at college, still needing her mom and dad to help her through the challenges she's facing being away from home for the first time in her life. The middle daughter, who calmly cruises along - until the high school pressure builds up, at which point we have major DRAMA, as the girls like to say. And then there's the youngest one, who's determined to chart her own course in life, and not follow in her older sisters' footprints, no matter what it takes!

And we're stuck in the middle. No peanut butter and jelly on this "sandwich" - just lots of time-consuming, emotion-draining listening, coaching and guiding.

But last Mother's Day, as we made the round of the parents, we saw in their eyes a new energy, and an excitement for a new phase in their lives. They couldn't stop talking about what it's going to take to get their homes ready to sell, or what they should do with all their (tons and tons and tons) of belongings.

The Mother's Day cards I got brought tears to my eyes, and even had me sobbing out loud (thank-you again, daughter #1).

And just for a day, I thought what a blessing it is to be surrounded by family, even when the pressure is coming from both sides. Being "smushed in the middle" isn't such a bad thing after all.

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