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Our guest blogger Adam Lanigan on the struggles of juggling ageing parents, family and work – is it possible to do it all?
It was around 4.30pm on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago when the messaged popped up on my family WhatsApp chat. ‘Dad’s had a fall’. Now that time is my busiest of my week and I was over two hours from home so I was in no position to dash over to help. But I would have plenty of time to go over the repercussions on my drive home.
As it turned out, my dad had broken his hip, which required immediate emergency surgery. And the start of a long process of rehabilitation, which is not straightforward at all when you take into account that he is 86. My first thought was to rush in to visit, to feel like you are doing something, but due to the Covid times we live in, he had to spend the first seven days in isolation, so the nearest I got was dropping a bag of his things off at the hospital ward door.
Looking after young children and caring for elderly parents are two of life’s great challenges and right now, I am fully immersed in both. They are both incredibly demanding tasks, physically and mentally. You see it described it as a ‘rollercoaster’ and while that is an easy cliché, it is absolutely 100% true.
A few weeks down the line and my dad has moved to a care home to continue his rehabilitation before he can hopefully return home. Visiting is a bit restrictive and as children are not allowed in – which I completely understand – my opportunities have been reduced further. I’m fortunate in that I have three brothers, who all live locally too, which is probably a rarity in this day and age and means that the load is shared out, but you still want to do your bit. The trouble is that when you have young children, ‘doing your bit’ requires a bit of flexibility and a heap of creativity. Because of my freelance career, flexibility and creativity is already a part of our weekly routine for the ongoing processes of work, family time and issues such as nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. This has just added another layer on top of that.
Take one day last week as an example. My wife, Louise, had dashed off early to work, so I had to get the children out of the house, fed, dressed, with bags packed and teeth brushed for nursery. Think of comedian Michael McIntyre’s sketch about leaving the house to imagine the scene. Once home, I had to quickly take a lateral flow test and answer a couple of work emails, before going off to visit my dad. Once there, I spent the majority of my visit giving him a wet shave, thereby ending his chances of getting any early work as Father Christmas. And from there I drove straight to work, somewhat flustered by the morning’s events. Work and all that entails was actually a sanctuary from dealing with real life.
You are probably thinking, surely there must be a day or so the four of us can spend together as a family? You’re correct – we do, and I value our fun time enormously. But with Louise’s mum in hospital an hour and a half away at the same time, things have stacked up. As the football writer in me would say, it’s parents in hospital two; parents out of hospital nil.
I’ve heard this general situation described as ‘sandwich care’ and right now, it feels like an enormous club sandwich with the filling spilling out of the sides!
We can all think of lovely things to do with three generations of the same family – going out to the Christmas pantomime, celebratory birthdays and special events, even going on holiday together. But what do you do when your children can’t sit still for more than five minutes and your parent is struggling to stand up? Answers on a postcard… Even when I will be able to take my children to see their Granddad again, someone will be unhappy. The children will get bored if the visit is stuck in one place. My dad will be frustrated if it feels like he does not have my undivided attention while I check to make sure nothing is broken and nobody injured. I will probably feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. And given that the demands of young and old cannot be resolved with a magic wand, that feeling is probably not going to change for some time to come.