So here's what I'm thinking today: I think that caregiving is an unnatural act. I just don't think the level of sacrifice is normal. Perhaps it's normal for a parent - and there are those who aren't built for the giving required of parents - but the whole 'child becomes parent' thing is simply not natural.
Here's what I'm thinking:
As a parent you have voluntarily (mostly) entered into a care contract. These are your kids. You raise them up and send them out into the world. If you're lucky and have normally developing children, there comes a point at which they are on their own. Perhaps in times of crisis they come home and need a soft place to land, but mostly, they grow and they go. Wheter your relationship is perfect or terribly flawed, your level of responsibility for them decreases over time.
As a child in the parent role however, everything is upside down. The needs don't decrease, they increase. The challenges don't become fewer, they grow. Whereas your baby goes from catnapping for a few hours at a time, to sleeping through the night, your parent goes from being able to manage their own finances to not being able to manage their own toileting. This process gives new meaning to the whole biblical notion of 'once a man, twice a child'.
In the midst of all this, the sandwich generation, the child of the ailing parent and likely a parent him/herself, must navigate these rough waters with compassion, day after day after day; hit after hit after hit; setback after setback after setback; challenge after challenge after challenge. On and on. Unrelenting. No breaks. No time off for good behavior. Even when you do have breaks, you're never really 'off duty'.
This is not natural.
With babies, there are the joys of new learnings, new skills. My niece, the best kid on the planet, has largely conquered her speech delay. With every passing day now, there's some new language skill to be marveled at. Every day, there are new thoughts to be shared and discussed. Every day, a new, good thing happens. With the ailing parent however, the new and different when it comes, is generally not good.
Today mother and I had a tussle over toileting. New and different. I won't give you the gory details. Suffice it to say that the tussle only added to my certainty that this is an unnatural act. The people who do this work for pay (and who are, by and large, not paid very well) are martyrs; angels and the hands and feet of God Himself.
People talk as if what I'm doing is martyrdom. It ain't. I get angry (as I did today). I shout (as I did today). And sometimes, I even walk away with tightness in my neck (as I did today).
These responses occur because this is so unnatural. In spite of the help and support that I have, it's not just unnatural it's killing. I have a caregiver organization that provides an unbelievable caregiver three days a week - never mind their bookkeeping is cause of much stress; and everyone at home is doing what they can. Still, this is an unnatural act. I don't care what anyone says. This is a not natural. When you add to the unnaturalness of it, any lingering unresolved issues in the parent/child relationship dynamic, believe me: unnatural.
And still, we plod on. Is there any other choice?