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Parenting Parents With Alzheimer’s: The Sandwich Generation

My weekend was slammed with kids’ soccer games, the annual science fair, and church. Sunday evening was approaching, and I was delighted to see nothing on the schedule. I even considered getting away with popcorn for dinner.

Then the phone rang. It was my mom and she needed something. Take your pick – she lost a long email before sending it, she was confused over medication, someone needed to change her smoke detector batteries.

Being part of the sandwich generation is not for the weak at heart. Constantly pulled in two directions, I wonder how I got here and how I’ll ever get out.

Parenting my children is one thing, and it’s a thing I signed up for. But parenting my own parents? How does this happen? My whole life, I counted on them for advice on my career, cooking lessons and how not to get taken by a mechanic.

And then suddenly, they sheepishly admitted they were late getting to lunch at the regular spot because they got lost. Again.

My dad had Alzheimer’s and it truly was the long goodbye. But for years before that, he would stop at my Minneapolis home on his way to a fishing trip up north to fix things for me, take me to lunch, and nag me about getting a home security system.

He loved my sons big time. And every time I made the trek home to Iowa, he’d sit me down and want to hear all about my job. And then I began to notice that all of that had slowed down and eventually he stopped asking for updates. His conversations became rambling and confusing. His computer, on which he had written an entire book, became a frustrating experience every time he tried to pull up email. He was declining as my boys were accelerating and I was the pickle in the middle.

It’s a wild and crazy place, being in charge of my own parents. As the youngest child, I got an even shorter window of time to enjoy my parents at their best. None of it feels fair, but it is what it is.

I work hard to make the best of the situation and keep on spinning all of the plates.

The benefit of all of this is the opportunity to teach my children how to treat their elders. That it’s not okay to roll your eyes when my dad tells that fishing story for the umpteenth time or get frustrated when my mom doesn’t understand the new cable channel line-up. My kids are watching how I treat my aging parents.

And since those same children will be in our sandwich position one day, let’s hope we’re showing plenty of compassion and unconditional love.

Renee Brown lives in Minneapolis with her two tall sons—Sam, 20, and Zachary, 18—and three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive working in advertising and an avid reader, wine drinker, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.

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