Parenting Your Mum – How it Feels to be Part of the Sandwich Generation

Old age and being part of the sandwich generation

The Sandwich Generation is something I’d only vaguely understood. Until now…

Today I posted on Instagram about how I’m really feeling. At lockdown 3, and entering month 12 of the Coronavirus pandemic I think a lot of people are feeling rather hopeless, and I’m no exception. I’m sad for all the loss – of lives, and of life in general.

I feel despondent about how much longer this might go on for as we approach our second summer of restrictions. Where once I was resolute and stoical about it, I’m now joining the cries of “But it’s so unfair!” that I once had no patience for. Being philosophical seems not to be working for me any more. 

I’m scared about money, both my own finances and the kids’ futures in the tax-heavy post-Covid government that I’ve convinced myself is coming. I’m starting to worry about recession, economic collapse, and a society so impoverished it may descend into doomsday scenes.  

I can’t even bring myself to think about the mental health crisis brewing behind all the locked down doors, in the locked down houses, and the locked in minds. If I do, I know I will start to become a statistic myself. 

That’s how I’m feeling in general right now.

What I didn’t say on Instagram is what else is going on in my life…

How the Sandwich Generation feels when you get to the end

I say my life, but that feels selfish, because in reality this is affecting someone else way more than me – my mum. My mum has lived on her own for 11  years since my dad died of cancer at 78. She is 89, and apart from a few falls a couple of years ago she has coped well. Recently though she’s been ill with infections, lots of falls, and worse, confusion. She’s become a worry. 

This is what people mean when they talk about the Sandwich Generation. We’re middle-aged, we’re still caring for our own families, and now we have to step in with our parents too. I’ve recently hit this phase with my own mum, and I’m sad to say I think we’re nearly at the end. Here’s what I’ve been feeling.


I said on Instagram that I feel overwhelmed, and that’s because it has fallen on me to step in and make sure the right things are done for her, albeit that I live two hours away from her. Albeit that we’re in lockdown and I can’t just ‘pop round’ to pick her up when she’s on the floor. 

It’s shocking how much time it takes to admin a vulnerable person’s life. I say admin deliberately because at times I really have felt like a medical secretary with the volume of calls I need to make and respond to. It’s made longer by the amount of Covid announcements I have to listen to before I can go into the call-waiting system, only to be told I need to call another department.

Then I have to call my mum and try to make her understand the messages, and act on them. I frequently fail there. 


I said that I feel sad, and I meant the miserable sadness that comes from seeing your mother demise to a state neither she nor you recognise. The things she loved to do are long gone. Her sewing machine has been unused for years, but now her cupboards are filled with synthetic cakes rather than the things she once spent entire Saturdays creating for the joy of baking. 

Now she spends complete days slumped in a chair, barely awake. She goes to bed early because she’s pressed so many buttons on her TV remote that she can no longer work out her way back to her favourite soaps. Her phone remains engaged because she tries to use her garage door remote to end a call, and never hangs up. I imagine the joy the local kids could have on her mobility scooter if only they knew.

She repeats herself endlessly and can’t remember the answers to her questions.

I spent yesterday being her carer and saw things you can’t unsee when it’s your mum you’re looking after. I slept fitfully last night, dreaming of bathroom floors, laundry and bleach. I ran through my mental to-do list and wondered if I needed to let the district nurses know she needs more, or different, or just not to be here anymore.


And then I felt guilty.

Because I know I don’t want to be the person who cares for her. Is that selfish? Stupid question really. Of course it’s selfish. Why wouldn’t I want to do everything I can for the person who raised me, irrespective of the things it involves or the time it takes? 

And the only answer I have is that I just don’t. I don’t want to see my mum like that, and I don’t think she wants it either. Who would? I ask myself if I’d one day be happy to imagine my children taking care of my own intimate needs, cleaning up after me, and I know the answer. I’d be horrified. But it feels very ungrateful and I’m struggling to reconcile that with my conscience and my sense of duty. 


The emotion I despise myself for most is irritation. I’m irritated at how much time this is taking from my own meagre supply. Teenagers may not need you as relentlessly as toddlers but they still need you a LOT even if they don’t think they do. Sure, they can definitely keep themselves alive, but they won’t do a lot of the things they need to to keep healthy without you nagging them. And whilst that’s okay for the odd day, it’s not when it becomes a pattern because you’re not there. 

I’m irritable because I’m unable to work as much as I want to. There are things I need to achieve to help keep our finances ticking over, and I’m failing almost daily on that. 

I’m irritable about my own health. I have fibromyalgia and the joy of menopause. Normally I’m able to manage all that but it it takes time. I need to exercise, eat well, and prioritise time for myself – both for fun and for my mental state. Yeah, you can imagine how well that’s going right now…

And I’m irritated by my mum’s dog. Three years ago I decided I could just about cope with the responsibility of the dog my kids kept pestering me for, and we got Rocket. He’s adorable, very cute, and most importantly very well-trained and attuned to our lifestyle. He fits in. 

My mum’s dog came with her own set of ingrained behaviours and a cup overflowing with the stress of seeing her owner carted off by paramedics after spending all night on the floor. She hasn’t been back there since and has moved in with a much louder family, where people shout frequently and don’t feed her biscuits. 

She’s not a bad dog, and I have such sympathy with her. After all, she’s adapted and she only wants to please and be loved. But she is not. Because we are a one dog household and the top spot is already taken. Her stress levels brought a lot more bleach and floor cleaning, and so we’ve found it difficult to accept her. 

More guilt

I’m aware that I’m now sounding selfish and self-indulgent. I know that there are many people out there tutting and wondering why I don’t just stop being such a flake and woman the f**k up. And so I’m back to guilt. 


As I ease myself into bed every night, careful of my dodgy knee and my painful shoulders, I wonder if this is how the end will be for me. Will I end my life alone, in constant pain, and unable to get up off the floor when I fall? It feels empty and hopeless, and I’m upset that this is now my mum’s life. I’m scared that it will be mine. 

Looking for silver linings

There are bright moments. Today my mum called me by herself to tell me that she’d had her Covid vaccine, and how impressed she was with the setup at the vaccine centre. How wonderful the staff were, and how pleased she feels to have done the right thing and protected herself. 

I look back at where this all began in December and realise that I’ve done a lot more than I give myself credit for. It felt like it took forever, but in reality it was only 3 weeks before we managed to get 4 visits a day from lovely carers who make sure she’s safe. (By the way, aren’t carers are amazing?)

She is coming to the end of her life. I realise that sounds terrible, but she hasn’t wanted to live for a long time now. She’s told me this many times. After my dad died her world got smaller and smaller until she was spending her days at the kitchen table and her evenings in front of the TV. Even church became too difficult. 

The pandemic has just shrunk it further to the point where there is no point. In her mind or in mine. Again, I realise how terrible that sounds. 

It’s just awful. For her. And for me.


8 thoughts on “Parenting Your Mum – How it Feels to be Part of the Sandwich Generation”

  1. I suppose I’d say that news, by its nature, focuses on the negative because it drives readership. But there’s plenty of optimism to be found. As to the money, when you think about how we only finished paying back our World War II debt a couple of years back, we’ll manage with this, too. And after all, haven’t we learned how happy we are with just a little more than we have now? I do think our kids will be so appreciative of a burger with a friend, a game of football, a night at the cinema…

    As to your Mum it’s tough, and you’d be very odd not to feel irritated and disappointed and sad. That’s natural. There’s no shame in saying it’s not for you and looking at alternative options. My parents both worked in residential social care and lots of families hand over the reins when it gets too much and impacts on the wider family, even if it’s just for respite. You’ve got a lot on your plate already, after all.

    • Thank you Sally I appreciate that sentiment entirely. And actually you are probably right – maybe the drag of lockdowns really will make our kids appreciate things a lot more than they might have previously!

  2. Helen I’m so sorry to read of your struggles and emotions, but can assure you they are all 100% normal and I can relate to every single one of them. The journey you are on is a difficult and quite frankly sh*tty one which is so unfair, and only people who’ve experienced it for themselves will understand. My mum passed away last May, in the height of lockdown#1, from early onset dementia, aged 70. Three weeks later my eldest son was admitted to hospital in DKA and diagnosed with T1D. My head has just about stopped spinning now, dealing with both devastating blows.
    I can tell you that the road with your mum is hard and I felt much the same as you (and she was blessed to have my dad care for her, I live far away but visited as often as I could, but felt such guilt and torment and worry!). I even felt relieved that I didn’t live nearby at times! How selfish is that?! She used to tell me how sorry she was that I was having to wash or dress her, so I totally get that feeling Helen. But we also had precious moments of laughing or crying, holding hands and telling each other we were loved. I was fortunate to be with her for her last 2 days (I travelled and wouldn’t have envied anyone who tried to stop me, due to lockdown restrictions). I think with dementia/Alzheimer’s you grieve so much in stages for each thing you lose along the way, like the last time mum independently called or text me (she was often the one who maintained good contact, I was always so busy!). I’ve heard it called the long goodbye. I do think that makes the inevitable real grieving process easier, it’s not a shock and maybe you’ve said goodbye emotionally already, if that makes sense, because it’s not exactly ‘mum’ anymore.
    Anyway, excuse my ramblings, I just wanted to reach out and tell you to cut yourself some slack, it sounds like you’re doing an immense job, whilst juggling so many other things and trying to be all things to all people. I hope you’re family can give you some added help and support given the circumstances, and if they aren’t, maybe you should ask them in case they haven’t understood how tough things are for you right now.
    Sending big hugs,
    Mel x

    Ps yes carers ARE amazing, they wear invisible super hero capes IMO, they should be running the country!! Mum’s regular carers came to see her after she’d passed and were genuinely distraught and cried along with us ❤️

    • Oh that’s so lovely and so sad Mel, and what terrible timing for the Type 1 to hit! I remember feeling guilty when my Dad died because I had stayed away through excuse of distance, but I can’t do that now it’s my mum’s turn. I’m glad you had positive time with your mum before she died. And I’m so sorry about the Type 1 diagnosis – it’s honestly the shittiest thing I’ve ever been through (or ever hope to) so if I can get through that I can get through this. You will too xx

  3. Helen, here’s the biggest ((hug)) for you right now.

    It is really, really hard being in your current position. I know, I was in it 3 years ago then again 1 year ago.

    Both deaths were devastating in their own way, both involved me giving up 80% of my time to administer, whether that be the carers and appointments to wrangle whilst they were still here or the process of probate after they were gone.

    I was trying to keep all the balls in the air, like you now, and I felt like I’d aged 20 years overnight.

    What I can say is you are strong, even if you don’t think it. You are also deserving of rest and being looked after. At some stage your sandwich struggle will be over and you will be knocked down, but you will get up again.

    Much love

    • Ahh Nadine thank you so much for this comment. I really didn’t go through it with my Dad because we had quite a distant relationship anyway, and my mum did all the caring. But with my mum there’s only me, and the 2 hour drive AND lockdown and the pandemic have all made it so much harder to deal with. So as well as the awfulness of caring, the strain on me is bigger than I’d reckoned for. I know so many have been through it though – it helps to hear from everyone about how they coped. Sorry you’ve been there too xx

  4. Helen,

    It was my experience of reverse parenthood that gave me the impetus to start blogging. I’d considered starting a blog on the subject, but I didn’t want anyone I knew IRL to be able to identify my parents — so I decided to blog anonymously, and to assign a pseudonym to everyone I wrote about.

    For me, reverse parenthood ended ten years ago, but the whole thing began in 1999, when my mother started to show symptoms of dementia. From that time until 2005, I experienced a long goodbye from her. After she died, my father aged rapidly — his reason for living had gone. And so I experienced another long goodbye until 2010. One thing that I was spared, which you are having to face, is the additional complexity of care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Your mother stopped baking cakes; my mother stopped knitting. (The reason she gave was that it gave her backache, but the truth may have been that she was having difficulty following the patterns.) My father stopped doing crosswords. He progressed to the stage of trying to select TV channels using the buttons on his landline phone. His daily medication became more complex, so I had to phone him twice a day, and take him through his morning and evening medication tablet by tablet. (Do old people in cognitive decline who have nobody to supervise them take even approximately the medication that they are prescribed? I doubt it very much.) For the last year or two of his life, if anything went wrong it was never his fault; often it was the fault of the couple next door — who in fact were the best neighbours you could wish for.

    Everyone who goes through reverse parenthood seems to find it overwhelming. Another word I’ve heard used is “draining”. Of course, it happens when we no longer have the energy of a twentysomething or thirtysomething. The best advice that I can offer to anyone involved in reverse parenthood is to get plenty of sleep — easier said than done, I know. If I hadn’t managed to get enough sleep, my schedule would have been unworkable.

    Whlie I’m on the subject of sleep, nowadays I occasionally have dreams in which my parents feature. There is never anything in the least unpleasant about these dreams, and interestingly, my parents are always aged about 70, and are in good health. It must have been on Sunday or Monday that I dreamt of my father reversing his car (the last one that he had IRL) out of his driveway, and heading off up the road to do his shopping at the supermarket.

    The clear impression I get from your blogpost is that you’re doing your very best in a difficult situation. With you and the district nurses and the carers, your mother is in good hands. But I do very much agree with the second paragraph of Sally’s comment. You don’t need to feel guilty about not being able to do the impossible.

    • Thank you so much for this comment. Your third paragraph is exactly what’s going on with my mum. Her body is hanging in there despite its malfunctions, but everything in her home is broken and messing around. I’ve seen her answer the phone with the TV remote, so I know where the issues are coming for, but I’m learning that there’s no point trying to tell her that. I just have to come across as unhelpful when I nod and say oh dear…


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