Sharon Meers, coathor of Getting to 50/50.
Topic: How working parents can have it all.
Issues: Why two careers are better than one; busting myths about work, women, and men; how your husband solves the work-life riddle; success doesn’t require 24/7; what women gain from working motherhood.
Dear Mr. Dad: About a year and a half ago, you wrote a column about Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign that ran during the summer Olympics. You correctly pointed out that P&G was completely ignoring dads and how important they are. I thought P&G had gotten the message, but in the run-up to this year’s winter Olympics, they’re running the very same campaign. What’s their problem?
A: You’re absolutely right. P&G’s campaign during the London Games (which, by the way, was just a tweak of the “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign they ran four years earlier, during the Beijing Games) is back. This time, it’s worse. Here’s why:
First, they’ve made the spots more tear-jerking than ever. Each one is a masterpiece. But each one also reinforces the message that mothers are the only parents who care about their children and encourage them to achieve great things.
Second, they seem to be going out of their way to slap dads in the face. Yes, moms deserve a ton of gratitude and thanks. But so do dads. How ‘bout a second campaign that thanks fathers? Or just “Thank you Mom and Dad”? Nope. P&G is doing everything they can to convince consumers that dads don’t exist.
Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single mom with a 10-year-old son who’s with me half the time. Before the divorce, he was a sweet kid and a pleasure to be around. But lately he’s become a terror, throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants—and I think it’s because his father is spoiling him. How do I deal with him? What can I say to his dad to get this behavior to stop?
A: As you well know, divorce is tough on everyone involved: you, your ex, and your son. And among the many problems divorce creates, one of the most common is children being spoiled by mom or dad. The one doing the spoiling is usually the non-custodial parent, who’s making a well-intentioned attempt to buy the kids’ affection or to do something to make up for how hard the divorce has been on them. But the same thing can happen in cases like yours, where both parents have the kids the same amount of time.
Just as our rambunctious toddlers and kids grow into self-sufficient teens, the self sufficiency and health of our parents start to decline. Dads of the sandwich generation are caught between directing a misguided, angsty teenager and helping a parent with diminishing independence. You’ve inescapably fallen into the role of caretaker for your own mom or dad.
Defining the Sandwich Generation
One in eight Americans care for aging parents while tending to their own families, according to the Pew Research Center. An estimated 66 million Americans take care of a loved one, while a third are also raising children, reports the National Alliance for Caregiving.
It’s a stressful responsibility that also evokes strong feelings of resentment, guilt and anger. You’re making sacrifices and engaging in 100 percent selflessness that can create serious health problems, self-neglect and exhaustion. The following pointers can help members of the sandwich generation healthily navigate their roles without the detrimental “caregiver syndrome.”
Aging seniors with decaying health can fall into depression and moodiness. A sick parent resents their own increased dependency on others. The growing resentment is a two-way street, and your once vibrant parent may resent needing your help just as much as you resent your parent’s reliance on you. During high-stress moments when your emotions are about to implode, try to remember this isn’t ideal for your parent either. Embrace empathy and compassion — inner strength and calmness will follow.
Mother and caregiver Mary Novaria wrote on The Huffington Post that she had a romanticized vision of her family’s three generations of women coming together. She fantasized about her and her mother and daughter sipping tea while dishing on “Grey’s Anatomy” and reminiscing in front of the fireplace. Likewise, you may have picture hitting golf balls with your father while teaching your teenager about the rules of the game. Letting go of an idyllic picture of how you imagined your relationship to be with your parent can help alleviate disappointment, resentment and irritation. Your parent is still your parent, and love is unconditional.
Claim Good Days
Parenthood can make a man want to pull a Christopher McCandless and abandon society to live in isolation with nature. Although McCandless met an unfortunate fate in the novel “Into The Wild,” his escape can be a fantasy for a parent. Parenthood is tough, and you have to savor the beautiful moments. A warm hug from a little one before bed can make up for an entire day of temper tantrums, and the same goes for caregiving. Cherish the good days. Avoid feelings of inadequacy with affirmations that you can’t do it all. It’s a balancing act. Use special moments shared with your parent as a reminder that your mom or dad suffering from Parkinson’s, for example, isn’t a burden, but a loved one.
Move Mom or Dad
Moving a parent out of their home can be devastating decision to make. Conversations with a parent about moving into your home or an assisted living community is commonly met with resistance. An aging parent may be even more reluctant to move from their home if they’re moving across country to be near your family for support. So focus on the bright side of things and drive home that a sunny transfer to assisted living community in Mesa, Arizona or elsewhere, could offer a healthy change of scenery..
Have an open conversation as soon as necessary and share honest concerns about your parent’s well-being. Explain that you’re their advocate. Continue to approach the subject in a way that makes your parent feel like they made the choice, rather than being forced into abandoning their home. Ensure your parent that your family is a caregiving team who your mom or dad can count on no matter what.
Dear Mr. Dad: Like you, I enjoy reading about new research findings in health and parenting. But I get really frustrated when what’s in the headlines isn’t always what’s in the actual research. How can I find the truth?
A: You’ve hit on one of my biggest pet peeves. As Mark Twain said about 100 years ago, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” You can find a study to support just about anything you believe. And if you can’t, statistics are easy to manipulate, massage, shoehorn, and just plain distort. Here are a few examples.