‘Love Conquers All’: Sandwich generation author gives advice on caregiving

By Karen Schaffner

Ruth Sanders is a former member of the sandwich generation.

“I was a professional, had my children at home,” she says. “I was very active in my own life, my husband’s life, but also doing things for my mom. It was like being a sandwich. My life, I’m in the middle, and her life.”

A retired nurse, Sanders learned what it meant to care for an aging parent before her mother died. She parlayed those lessons into “My Parent, My Child, Love Conquers All.” The book is available on Amazon and Saturday, March 4, and Sunday, March 5, at the AuthorHouse Gallery at the Tucson Festival of Books. 

Taking care of her mother was not what Sanders expected.

“What I didn’t know at that time is that my retirement would revolve around doing things for my mom,” she says. “I thought being a nurse would have prepared me better for being what I term ‘lay caregiver.’ It really didn’t.”

It turns out she wasn’t alone. According to Sanders, there are more than 16 million Americans who are caring for loved ones.

“They are not paid to do it,” she says. “They are having to do it.”

In addition, Sanders says, about 14 million Americans have some form of dementia.

“It’s a silent epidemic, really,” Sanders adds.

Sanders says families need to develop a blueprint while everyone is able to make their own decisions. 

“Without a plan, someone else might make the decision for you and it might not be what you want,” she says. “Eighteen and older, you need a plan because life is not promised.

“For instance, if you are an only child, you need to have a conversation with the parents or a parent while they are up, about and independent. ‘Mom, what do you want your life to look like if you can no longer care for yourself? Do you want to be in an assisted living facility? Do you want to be in an efficiency apartment? How would you like for that to look?’ You’re just having a conversation.”

If there are siblings, have a roundtable discussion, which includes the entire family, but do not expect consensus.

Questions should be asked about burials, life support, wills, living will/advance directive and feeding tubes. 

“You’re having this conversation not when they are ill, but when he or she is up and about and independent,” Sanders says. Then “You have a blueprint; you have a plan.”

Caring for a parent is stressful. Sanders says it’s important to be respectful. Sometimes you need the patience of a saint and a coping strategy. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all; each person and moment are different.

“It depends on that particular case, on what is going on at that particular moment with your life and the person you are caring for,” Sanders says. 

She has a strategy for stubbornness, too.

“You might sometimes have to bring in a mediator, a third party,” she says. “Many times, a mother might not respect a daughter telling her what to do. If you bring in a mediator, a friend, and you tell the friend if you would ask mom or dad to do this, guess what? A revelation. All of a sudden, a change. If mom or dad thinks that you’re trying to force them into doing something, it’s not going to work.”

“My Parent, My Child, Love Conquers Alive”