My four sons under age seven watched me move my work-from-home office equipment into another room, in preparation to welcome my 65-year-old mother into our home after her upcoming surgery. They asked all the questions you’d expect: “Why is there a bed in your office?” “What’s this weird toy?” (her walker), and “How long does she get to have sleepovers with us?” I replied in the famous words of Peppa Pig’s daddy: “It will take as lonnnng as it takes.” Meanwhile, I was doing mental gymnastics wondering how I’d provide for both my mom and my gaggle of sons effectively, especially since I’ve had the privilege for so long of my mom’s help with childcare and carpooling.
After seeing her post-op in the hospital, I worried about how my kids would react to the sight of their typically involved grandmother in such a state, unable to move much of her body without help and even needing bathroom assistance. My first instinct was to shield them from this recovery process, not wanting them to think something was seriously wrong with the woman who sneaks them to the dollar store for prizes and takes them out to lunch. So, when she came home and was navigating heavy medication, side effects, and pain, I shooed the kids out of her room.
But toddlers have a pesky way of going exactly where they want to go, not where you say. While cooking dinner I heard chatter from her room, where I thought she was resting. My 3-year-old had barged in, woken her from a nap, climbed on top of her lap, and was reading her a story, which she would usually be reading to him. It was both an immediately heartbreaking and heartwarming scene, the roles reversed in just days. My son, with no help from me, had become the caregiver in a sense, providing cuddles and comfort to her recovery process. I had accidentally almost prevented the exact interactions that can be an antidote to loneliness, which seniors chronically experience.
From that moment on I knew this was an opportunity, not something to shield them from. I became curious about the benefits of actually fully exposing them to the truth of the situation, both for the kids and my mom, so I reached out to others who have encountered this. Jennifer Prescott, RN, MSN, CDP, and Founder and COO of Blue Water Homecare and Hospice, is living the “sandwich generation” life, caring for both her four children and her mother-in-law with dementia, who lives with her. She has seen firsthand the benefits of including children in care, rather than pushing them away.
“Children have a warm and infectious spirit that draws everyone into their world. They inspire seniors to learn new skills, be active and share stories,” she says. She also emphasizes that children witnessing the aging process is a normal and beneficial “intergenerational engagement.” Basically, the circle of life was happening right there in my former office, and my kids almost missed the chance to learn about it.
Children see how their parents care for seniors and learn from their behavior. The fears of aging can be resolved when children have intergenerational engagement and can see how they can impact lives outside of their own,” Prescott says.
So the next time my mom needed to be escorted to the bathroom, I took a beat. A kid jumped up and cleared toys out of her path, hanging on to the walker to make sure …….