Moving In With Mom
In 2014, Blair became a member of the sandwich generation — adults who care for children as well as older parents. Her father-in-law passed away suddenly from a heart attack, and soon after, Blair and her husband began caring for Jessica.
“My mother-in-law is a very private person, and we didn’t fully understand all the issues she dealt with on a daily basis,” says Blair. Using old appointment cards found at her mother-in-law’s home, Blair set about getting her mother-in-law the right care. Through diet and weight management, the Blairs got her diabetes under control.
“We told doctors about the symptoms we were observing on a day-to-day basis, and through various tests, doctor’s officially diagnosed her with dementia,” says Blair. “It was beneficial to have all that research on the disease so that we knew how to handle it.”
Making the Transition
Despite all the work her son and daughter-in-law were putting into her care, Jessica Blair was not excited about the changes occurring in her life, especially when her son and daughter-in-law moved into her home.
“To put it mildly, it was the hardest year of my life,” says Blair. “There were so many growing pains. My mother-in-law was not doing well physically and mentally. She was grieving the death of her husband and she was bitter about needing our care. She didn’t understand why we needed to be there.”
As Blair settled into life with her mother-in-law, she made sure to set down some rules and expectations for the whole family. “We worked really hard to make sure that she wasn’t just living in the same house,” says Blair, “but that she was a part of our family and all the family activities, like going to the park or movie nights on the couch. Eventually, she realized that we weren’t the enemy.”
Highs and Lows
While many sandwich caregivers struggle under the weight of their responsibilities, Blair tries to take it all in stride. “For me, it’s easier than for a lot of people because I do have young children and their minds work very much like my mother-in-law’s — the constant questions, wet beds in the morning. My biggest challenge is remembering that she is an adult and she needs to be treated like an adult.”
The Blairs live on a 110-acre farm, so after their homeschool lessons are done for the day, the family spends their afternoons outside, playing and living lives full of activity. “My kids and my mother-in-law all want my attention at the same time, so you’ve got all of these people with all of these needs, and they’re all happening at the same time,” says Blair. “It’s hard for my kids to understand that sometimes Nana needs me more than they do.”
When asked who is harder to care for, Blair doesn’t hesitate. “I would say my mother-in-law because my kids will eventually learn and understand what I’m saying. But with her we’re stuck in this weird limbo. I know that she’s never going to learn and it’s never going to sink in. With my kids there’s always that hope for knowledge, but my mother-in-law isn’t going to change.”
For Blair, there are moments in every day that are tremendously rewarding. They’re the times when the family ends the day talking and laughing together, or the times her oldest son walks up to his grandmother and gives her a huge hug for no reason at all.
But there are also difficult days. “In general, the hardest days for me are when my mother-in-law starts feeling very confident in herself, even though her needs haven’t changed. Those days can become really hard.”
Making “Me” Time
Pulled from both sides, sandwich caregivers constantly risk burnout. “It’s been a huge struggle for me because it does take a lot out of you,” says Blair. “I pick my battles with both my kids and my mother-in-law, and I’ve learned to let a lot of things go that I used to feel were very important.”
Blair draws significant support from her sister-in-law and her husband, who is very involved in the care of his mother. And with a degree in music from Baylor, Blair is also very involved in the music ministry at her church. “It’s something that no one else is involved in and that nourishes me and keeps from burning out. There’s a lot of prayer involved and I have an excellent team around me.”
But perhaps more than anything, Blair’s blog, “A Bridge Between the Gap,” has served as both a creative and emotional outlet. “Blogging has been a huge relief for me, because I’m better able to explain myself through my writing, and I feel like I’m helping someone else at the same time.”
Where Passion Meets Purpose
Many of Blair’s friends cannot see themselves living with an older relative full time. They routinely ask her the same question: Why does she do what she does? “Because we’re a family,” says Blair. “That’s why I feel so strongly about it — I don’t want to lose out on that part of my family.”
Whenever people praise her for what she does, Blair reminds them that she’s just doing what families have done for hundreds of years, in cultures all over the world.
“I think it’s very important that my kids are learning a different way of caring for somebody,” she says. “They are seeing how to love someone even though they don’t always react well to care. It’s good that they realize love and care aren’t always reciprocated, and you aren’t always getting something by caring for someone else. In many cultures around the world, this is what you do, and I’d like my kids to see that it’s not terrible.”
Spreading the Love
When it comes to those considering life as a sandwich caregiver, Blair has a bit of advice: “I would say they shouldn’t be afraid of it. You have to take it one day at a time, discuss with family and get everybody on board. It can get very overwhelming, especially in the beginning. It’s certainly not unicorns and rainbows all the time, but I don’t regret it at all.”
And for those who already find themselves sandwich caregivers, Blair also has some important advice, “Asking for help is huge, but it’s something I’ve learned how to do. And just finding time to take care of yourself, even if it’s just taking a shower, or finding 30 minutes to read a book, or keeping a stash of chocolate somewhere. It’s all those little things that can help you avoid burnout.”
We’re Here to Help
If you’re a sandwich caregiver, and you need some extra help — even if it’s just for a week or two — give us a call. We’re always here to lend you and your loved one a helping hand.
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