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Voices: I’m Officially Part Of The Latina ‘Sandwich’ Generation

Image: Claudia Deschamps

Three generations: Claudia Deschamps with her mother and her daughter. Courtesy of Claudia Deschamps

It plays out like a scene from a movie.

“I don’t want them to hate me!” my mother says.

“Your priority should be to support me, not to let your grandkids get away with things so they’ll love you more,” I reply. “This is not a popularity contest!”

It is a movie, in fact. The movie of my life. Only, it’s not fiction. This is the movie in which I ask my mother, the newest member of my household, to enforce discipline with my children when I am off to work. It is one of the latest chapters in this never-ending motherhood journey as the newest member of the sandwich generation.

I had heard and read about it. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would become part of it.

I had heard and read about it. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would become part of it. The sandwich generation: right smack in the middle of raising my children and taking care of my elderly mom. When I encountered the topic in a magazine or news story, it felt like something that was still light years away or may not happen altogether.

I suspect this is what happens to many adults of Mexican origin who grow up with an overpowering macho dad, an invincible figure with unending energy. It didn’t seem possible when he died unexpectedly seven years ago.

After his death, my mother decided to stay in Mexico and live in the apartment they called home for the last decade. That proved to be a great exercise of independence. The exercise however, had an expiration date. Her neighbors were all from the same generation; retired couples and widows who shared the same interest. But then they started dying, too. Three of them passed in the same year, one of them completely alone. It was at that moment that my mother started re-evaluating living alone.

She looked into retirement homes in Mexico, places where she would not be alone and would be taken care of, but the search did not produce anything she was happy with. I knew all along that this search was only a precursor to my mother coming to live with us. In fact, I was happy about it. In my heart it didn’t feel right her living her last years in Mexico all alone with me raising my family in the United States. After all, for the longest time I had the notion that putting your aging parents in a retirement home was the “American” thing to do. In Latin America, we open our doors and bring them home, we care for them, and we do not set them aside like a piece of old furniture.

Thanks to my husband’s infinite tolerance and my children’s ability to adapt, her exodus from Mexico began. It has now been more than a year since my mother has lived with us. It has been a year of adjustments, of finding our place around each other, and of identifying what makes us tick and sometimes explode. Being part of the sandwich generation is an experience I compare to having a time machine. My mother and I will often travel back in time as we share memories of times long forgotten or just too painful to revisit.

It has now been more than a year since my mother has lived with us. It has been a year of adjustments, of finding our place around each other, and of identifying what makes us tick and sometimes explode...I just have to remember that this isn’t only my movie, but my mother’s, too. And we have to work together to make sure it has a happy ending.

Being part of the sandwich generation is an exercise of patience, tolerance and balance – a complicated dance in which both of us try to avoid ghosts from the past. But, while difficult it is also comforting to know that, for my children, their grandmother will not be a distant figure, but a real, constant flesh and blood influence. I just have to remember that this isn’t only my movie, but my mother’s, too. And we have to work together to make sure it has a happy ending.