‘I was the meat in the sandwich: The emotional and financial squeeze of motherhood’

May 17, 2021
"I struggled to meet the demands of my daughters and my Dad", writes May. Source: Stock Photo/Getty Images

When I divorced, my daughters were both in their early-teens and transitioning from primary to secondary school. It was a tough time, made more difficult because I was required to return to full-time work, which included long travel hours.

As I was the primary care giver these were massive changes for my girls, who were required to become responsible and independent before their time. I rarely saw them awake in the mornings before school so the evenings together meant a home-cooked meal around the dining room table, always with a pretty tablecloth, was compulsory. They would sit in the kitchen doing homework while I prepared meals or put a load in the washing machine. This became the time when we shared our day.

As the girls gained maturity sometimes I would come home to a stir fry or roast chicken organised by one or both of them, and the washing would have been brought in and folded. They both worked part-time jobs while studying and both went on to gain double degrees, securing employment in their chosen fields.

The year my own 79-year-old father became ill was a particularly difficult time. I learned first-hand what the term ‘the sandwich generation’ meant. I had work commitments, a child in Year 11 and the other in Year 12, and a parent in another state who had lost his partner only three months beforehand. I struggled to meet the demands of my daughters and my Dad — I was the meat in the sandwich.

The girls rallied, as they did again a few years later when my only sibling died. They took charge, organising accommodation, meals, travel and emotional support. I think this is when the shift began in our relationship. Young adults, they took control.

In hindsight the early responsibilities and the hardships with which they were dealt were the making of them, as well as myself. Family breakdowns are awful, but they can also provide opportunities for personal growth. I found that when circumstances change you are more open to experimenting with new ways.

I was in no way the perfect single parent. I made mistakes. Sometimes I worried too much about my daughters, though I never allowed myself to worry so much to hold them back. When they flew the coop to pursue their own lives I knew my job as a parent had been a successful one.

Now retired, people ask whether I’ll be selling up to live nearer one of the kids. “Not on your life,” I respond. I’m happy with my space and so are they.

We talk weekly, send texts and lots of photos. When we do catch up once or twice a year they tend to put me in the back seat of the car and tell me “not to worry, everything is organised”. And it invariably is. There has been a shift in the parent-child dynamic. I’m now most definitely the child, and to be honest, it’s nice to be taken care of occasionally.

Six months ago I become a first time grandparent, or Mee-maw. This is a new relationship that we’re still negotiating. It’s been 34 years since I last changed a nappy. Is it wise to pretend I’m too old to learn how?

Have you been part of the 'sandwich generation'? What toll did it take on you?

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