Smack-dab in the Middle of the Sandwich Generation: Parenting 4 Kids While Caring for My Aging Mother

Posted February 10, 2010 by

I have officially entered the sandwich generation, a member of the boomer generation blessed with the dubious distinction of simultaneously caring for an aging parent while still having children at home in need of parental assistance with homework.

My sandwich is also a club sandwich with a layer of adult children as well. Does that mean I can request that it be gourmet instead of bologna slapped on white with a piece of American added for good measure Please, Please can I make it gourmet, otherwise I might not make it fifth grade homework and new math are killing me, teenage girl drama is still painful second hand, online gambling and overdrawn bank accounts, a son finally negotiating his way but it took a DUI to get him to that point, and now my mom providing the top layer.  

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly juggle another parenting plate — with two adult sons who alternate between each other (when one is doing well, it seems the other is crashing), a thirteen-year-old who is more than happy to remind us that she is not genetically related to either me or her dad (she is adopted and blessed it seems with superior genes), and a ten-year-old redhead eager to be heard — another plate to spin was added to the mix…

My mother. Except now I am mothering her.

This introduces a whole new dynamic into the family. She has unofficially moved in with us after collapsing on Christmas Eve, buying her a night in the hospital, and then falling out of bed a week later.

The duties of mothering one's mother are quite similar to mothering one's offspring. Along with making sure she eats, I do her laundry, monitor her medicines and at times help her get dressed. Thank God none of my children are toddlers or I really might be confused, and end up with two who need pull-ups at night.

All joking aside, it will be humor (and a healthy dose of faith) that get me through the next chapter of my life.

I have practice; I am a mother after all. Boundaries need to be held, directions repeated and patience stretched. Come to think of it, toddlers and teens also share many life characteristics.

And now I am the middle layer of a sandwich.

So what strategies will help if you find yourself in this same recipe. Here are some that seem to be working for us:

  • Consistency: Make sure everyone hears the same message. And don't expect your up generation to enforce them. You need to be much more vigilant. Somehow your children are still their grandchildren who seem in their eyes to be entitled to a free pass. Sorry. No go.
  • Take charge: You are the parent to your kids. And now also to your parent.
  • No Going Behind Your Back: Let your kids know in no uncertain terms that going behind your back to grandma or grandpa won't be tolerated. Period.
  • Find a Way to Laugh: Maintain a sense of humor at all times. Without it you are ten paces behind.
  • Just Say "No": Use this as the reason to say the no that may have eluded you. Thought you needed more white space in your day before Ha! Multiply it by five.
  • Say "I Love You.": Tell your parent you love them just as often as you tell your child, even if they are driving you nuts.
  • Be Careful What You Ask for: Whatever you do, don't pray for patience. It seems like this is a prayer that God loves to answer by giving you multiple simultaneous opportunities to practice.

Comment if you can commiserate. We can all support each other. And feel free to add more coping strategies of your own we can all use the support!


Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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