Guilt and The Sandwich Generation

guilt by sfslim

photo by sfslim

Guilt–it’s more than a four-letter word (since it has 5 letters), but in all seriousness, guilt is one of those things that I experience a lot as both a mother and the only daughter of my parents in their mid-70s. I’m sure many of you experience mommy or daddy-guilt–when your child wants you to do something with him or her, and you have to mow the lawn, pay the bills, or even go to work. It’s a part of life and part of being an adult. But the kind of guilt I’m talking about comes from responsibilities and choices from being a part of the Sandwich Generation.

This summer, my mom had total knee replacement surgery on one knee. She had the other one done 12 years earlier. She is also a heart attack survivor and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, so we knew this surgery could have its complications. Still, the doctor thought she’d have the surgery on Monday, and go home on Thursday with home physical therapy three times a week.

That’s not exactly what happened.

We were ready for the first three days with a game plan. My dad would be at the hospital during the surgery. I would show up in the afternoon to relieve him for a few hours, and my husband would be home from work this day with both kids. The first day, it went smoothly. When I got to the hospital, she was on morphine and eating a turkey pot pie! The next two days, the plan was for me to come in the morning before my husband went to work at 2:00 pm. My dad would go home in the morning and then relieve me after lunch, so I could go home and take care of my kids. But little did we  know that my mom and the pain medicine would not get along so well (which will be a blog post in itself one of these days), and her recovery did not go well. On Wednesday, she couldn’t feed herself or participate in physical therapy, saw the Statue of Liberty in her room, and didn’t  know the President of the United States.  My husband had to take off work another day–I was away from my children much more than I had planned because my parents needed me at the hospital. . .


All the munchkins at the Indy zoo

So then a huge decision came up. That weekend, we were supposed to meet my brother-in-law and his family in Indianapolis. I was very excited to see my nephews and have some fun! But my mom was still not out of the hospital, and there was talk of her going to a rehab center. A voice inside of me, one I was trying to ignore along with the pit growing in my stomach, told me to send the kids and my hubby to Indy on their own, and I should stay home and take care of my mom. I didn’t want to do this. I felt horrible for missing my nephews and the opportunity to go on a vacation with my children and husband. But I felt even worse thinking about having fun and being 4 hours away when my parents needed me, too.


I made a hard choice. I missed the trip to Indy. I listened to my inner voice, and everything worked out fine. My hubby and kids had a good time. My mom made it to the rehab center, and I helped my dad by being able to sit with my mom for hours while he went home and took care of things.

Next week, I’ll share with you some questions I asked myself in order to come to that decision and some tips for dealing with the guilt.

Have you ever made a choice like this in  your family?


  • I’m glad everything worked out. My parents had us so young they are just now in their 50’s, so I haven’t had to worry about them (to much). They still worry about me :) It’s so interesting to hear your side of the sandwich generation.

    • Thanks, Busy Lady, although you had to worry about your dad in a very dangerous place!!!! :)

  • What a tough situation to be in! Fortunately, by the time my mom needed extensive time for her surgeries, my kids were old enough to get themselves to school or drive themselves to events. The pressure and guilt are so much less and they are old enough to understand the time needed with my mom. But had they been little, wow, that would have been very pulling. Hope both your mom and dad do well.

    • Thanks, Julie. Yes, that’s what happens when my mom had me at 29, I’m an only child, and then I didn’t get pregnant until I was 39!!!! My parents are both doing well now.

  • Thanks for sharing this experience as variations of these challenges are happening so frequently.
    Take care!

    • You are welcome.And I think it’s because many people are getting married later and/or waiting to have kids. Then also there’s infertility issues, which there have always been, but now the treatments seem to be successful (eventually), which is what happened in my case. :) I think there’s more people in the Sandwich Generation than ever before.

  • My mom’s at the age where I worry about her all the time, but fortunately my daughter is on her own and has been for about 15 years. Doesn’t mean I don’t worry about her, I do. But it’s not like when they’re still at home and you are responsible for them.

    My daughter lives 9 hours away and in the winter my mom is in Florida. With both so far away, I just hope I never have to make an emergency trip, like I did when my daughter suffered appendicitis while she was in college. Scary stuff.

    Glad your mom is doing better.

    • Thanks, Baby Boomer Lady. :) It is much easier when you live less than 10 minutes from your parents. I also have a lot of supportive and helpful friends and family, and so do my parents. Everyone pitched in and helped, which is awesome. But as everyone knows, when someone is sick, most of the time that person wants a family member to be there (or a REALLY close friend). My friends are still helping with Katie now–like letting her come to critique group, so my mom doesn’t have to babysit so much!

  • […] week, I posted about guilt and the Sandwich Generation. (The Sandwich Generation is full of people who have young children at home whom they are caring […]

  • Thanks for sharing this. Something similar to this came up for me and my mom with my grandmother. We were all set to go on vacation when my grandmother had an unexpected turn for the worse a few days before our vacation. I became guilt-ridden as did my mom on whether or not we should still go. In the end my grandmother pulled through and we were still able to have a nice vacation. I think it was a good break for my mom and something she really needed in order to be able to face the next few months of keeping updated on her mom’s health and selling a house and moving. But it wasn’t an easy decision to make and it took lots of prayers and heart searching to make it. My grandmother is still doing well. She is just sneaky about taking her meds. :) And my mom is coping with all her challenges very well.

    • I’m so glad that your grandmother is doing well and everything worked out. It’s hard to decide what to do. I completely agree with you. I’ve had to start using a lot of logic and try to leave my heart out of it, which is impossible, of course.

  • I have a story from 40 years ago…and I can’t believe it’s been that long but obviously the incident left an impression on me because I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was about to graduate from junior high (grade 8 here in Ontario, Canada) and was really looking forward to the pretty dress, dancing with my friends and boyfriend and basically the whole event in general. My dad was working overseas at the time and was home for a brief visit. He and my mom planned a mini-vacation out to the east coast (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I.) with a couple of close friends of their’s and of course they wanted to take me with them. I was really torn at the time…I didn’t want to miss my grad and I really didn’t want to miss the trip either since I liked to travel and I had never been to the east coast. It also meant I’d get to spend more time with my dad before he left again. Eventually the decision was made, and we were all going on the trip. I came to terms with missing my grad, I mean there would be one more in my future for sure and that really was the important one. My friends were disappointed but that was that. The itinerary was set, our bags were packed, we went to bed early so that we could get an early start on the road and come morning, out of no where, my dad announced (with a shrug) that he really didn’t feel like going after all. I was surprised, my mom was disappointed (she was really looking forward to seeing the east coast) and their friends were furious (I think they felt like he was stringing them along the whole time). They didn’t talk to my parents for quite sometime after that but eventually, since they had known each other for so long, they got it over it. I got to get a pretty dress, dance with my friends and boyfriend (who was the only boy that showed up in jeans and a t-shirt), and attend my grade 8 grad which I remember very little of other than my boyfriend was under dressed, lol. In retrospect, I really wish we would have gone on the trip, I still have yet to visit the east coast. My dad isn’t alive anymore but now thinking about this story, I wish I could ask him if he ever felt any guilt over making that decision because at the time he seemed pretty indifferent over it and it nearly cost him a friendship. I know I learned from that experience and I have never promised to take my own children anywhere without following through with it. I couldn’t bear to see the looks of disappointment on their faces.

    I think the sacrifice you made was the right thing to do. Although your family had to leave you behind to go to Indy, you had a good reason to stay. I’m sure your parents were grateful and your family were proud of you. My mother just had hip replacement surgery, I can relate. In times of need, you do what you have to and that includes making sacrifices, if anyone opposes those decisions, well then they’re just selfish.

    • Actually, I’m really dating myself…it actually happened 30 years ago…OOPS!

  • Haidee:
    Thank you so much for sharing that whole experience with us. I would have been completely disappointed to, but it’s interesting as an 8th grader even that you were able to bounce back and decide, “Well then, I’ll just go to my graduation.” It is so interesting how our experiences as a child can affect us the rest of our lives and make us HOPEFULLY good parents. My parents were both wonderful, which is why I feel so much like I should help them now. As for dating yourself, well, I think we are probably around the same age. I was just doing some calculation about when I was in 8th grade. .. AND it’s always better to think you are actually older and then realize you are YOUNGER than that, than the other way around. :)

So, what do you think?