Should we be considering the possibility of taking my ageing mother into our home while we’re still in the process of raising three kids? We have two teens and a middle-schooler. We don’t really like the idea of placing my mother in a nursing home, but we also don’t want to alter family dynamics too much at this temperamental stage in our children’s development. What kinds of challenges do you think we might be facing?

You should be prepared for both positive effects as well as challenges. On the one hand, it will be a big help to have the support and assistance of your spouse and children as you take on the formidable task of meeting your mother’s needs. Although there is usually one primary care-giver in a situation like this, the presence of family provides a built-in network of partners and co-workers. This family network can offer emotional support and a kind of backup system, as well as the security of knowing that if something should happen to you, your ageing loved one will not be left alone. Cultivating a strong sense of family is a powerful motivator to share the care-giving responsibilities for elderly loved ones.

That’s not to mention that your kids can play a very special role in this process. Children in care-giving households are often silent witnesses to changing family dynamics. As they get older, they often become part of the care-giving backup system, both emotionally and practically. They can sense the importance of sacrifices made to care for grandparents or older relatives, and this can become a vital part of their moral and spiritual growth. There’s also the opportunity for them to develop a special relationship with the older person, even when the ageing adult is suffering from some form of dementia.

On the other side of the ledger, while the potential for love increases every time you add a new member to the household, so does the possibility of interpersonal conflict. The stability of the family as a whole is always affected by changes or disturbances among its members. Under these new circumstances it’s likely that your children’s social lives will be disrupted and their personal freedom restricted. They may feel uncomfortable bringing friends home. Meanwhile, you may sometimes end up mediating conflicts between the kids and your mum. As the care-giver, your desire to meet everyone’s needs and set a good example can contribute to the pressure you feel.

This is what people have in mind when they talk about the “Sandwich Generation.” “Do you know what’s in the middle of that sandwich?” asked one care-giving father of teens. “I’ll tell you: chopped meat!” His observation sums up an important truth: it’s not easy to be a middle-aged adult caught between the demands of kids and ageing parents. No wonder so many people who tackle this responsibility often feel restless, isolated and depressed.

Please understand that we’re not trying to dissuade you from taking your mother into your home. Far from it! But we think you should move ahead with eyes wide open, fully aware that the job will have its ups and downs. Once you’re in the thick of it, you’ll probably find yourself asking this question over and over again: Whose needs come first? Sometimes the health concerns of your elderly mother will have to take priority. On other occasions the emotional state of a teenager will demand your immediate attention. A spouse’s needs may go underground for a period of time only to resurface later on in a dramatic way. Your own health and sanity matters too – if you neglect your personal well-being, your ability to care for you mother will suffer as well.

In short, there are no easy answers or simple solutions to the challenges you’re likely to face if you choose to assume responsibility for your mother’s care. It will involve you in a delicate balancing act and place you in a position where you will have no choice except to rely on the grace and wisdom of the Lord from one moment to the next. To discuss this further we recommend finding a friend, pastor or counsellor in your area.

© 2002 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Adapted from The Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers.

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