Last week I had to take my mom to the ER at 9:00 at night. She is fine, and the specific details are hers to share. But, I was getting our son ready for bed, my husband was at work, and we were supposed to get up early and drive an hour for me to work at a homeschool event the next morning (and the kid was supposed to go with me).
I was not quite a joyful daughter.
I had every excuse, I thought, for feeling put out: my child was up way past his bedtime, he was upset that his grammy was in pain, he was confused by everything in the ER, I was exhausted from having already worked two days with twenty 3-5 year olds, it always falls on me to take care of my mother, my husband had to rearrange his work schedule and take an unscheduled day off…
In reality, though, I was scared and felt out of control.
Scripture commands in Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (NIV). The word “honor” is translated from the Hebrew word kabad, which means just that: honor. It is what is known as a piel imperative command; this means that when God commands us to honor our parents, He expects us to continue to honor them with no end – until we die.
That is a long time. And there are no exceptions to God’s commands. He doesn’t say to honor your parents unless you’re tired, or only when it’s convenient, or only if they’re being kind.
It sheds a whole new light on being part of “the sandwich generation.” I think the theological implications have already spoken for themselves, so what I want to do is share some practical things I’ve learned in the past year as I’ve begun navigating caring for my mom while still honoring her as her daughter.
- Realize you are still their child. When my mom called, and briefly explained what was happening, I knew that the local walk-in clinic was well equipped to handle us. I also knew we’d be in, out, and my kid would be in bed pronto. But my mom wanted to go the ER, and insisted she knew better. I am still her child, and in non-life threatening circumstances, even if it is utterly inconvenient, I need to submit to her out of honor for her. Realize that even if you are a grown adult, with children of your own, you are still a child in their eyes.
- Teach your children that family is important. As soon as I hung up the phone and explained we had to go, my kid sprang into action. He finished getting his pajamas on, found his shoes, and got into the car without complaining. He may only be six years old, but he has accompanied us countless times to assist various family members with all sorts of things. He knows the value of family, and that family is a high, high priority. Did he whine in the ER? Yes. Did he cry a little as I sang him to sleep on my lap? Yes. But he, too, was scared and felt out of control. But he knew we were doing the right thing. And he didn’t do those things in front of his grandmother, because he knew she was in pain and scared.
- Pray. I suppose this should have been first, but, hey. That’s how life sometimes works. We don’t think to pray until we’re already in the car halfway to where we need to be. Pray. Pray for your parents now, pray when they’re healthy, pray when they’re not, pray for your children, pray for your own heart in the issue, pray. Nothing is too silly to take to God. If you are worried or scared, pray about it. Pray with your parents, too, if they’re open to it.
- Be prepared. I’m a list girl; when we go somewhere, I have a list. Even my lists have lists, actually, and my husband teases me. But I have a “hospital” list: sweater, phone charger, cash (parking garages & vending machines), water bottle, and a book. I also always have a “car bag” packed for the kid: crayons, coloring books, sticker books, his leapfrog toy, headphones, PEZ (his favorite), and some action figures. When my mom called, I didn’t even think: I grabbed his car bag, my sweater, my book, my purse, and we were gone (I did forget my phone charger, but my phone held! Yay!).
- Be flexible, but firm. Honoring your parent when you have to be “the adult” is a fine line to walk. It’s hard to treat them like your child, if that’s necessary, while still helping them feel like your parent. Yet sometimes it is Filling prescriptions, calling for doctor’s appointments, buying intimate necessities, cleaning up after accidents, initializing conversations, knowing where things like insurance forms and wills are – these are hard things to think about when it comes to your mommy or daddy. You have to realize when to have conversations, when it’s appropriate to make a lighthearted remark or joke, and when you have to put your foot down, quite frankly.
- Develop a support system. Honestly? I am still working on this one. I seem to be the first of my friends who is walking this path, so I’m the trailblazer, of sorts. I’m not going to lie: it’s a bit of a lonely path. My brother is far away, my in-laws aren’t much interested in our lives, and I feel…guilty? afraid? like a burden?…if I call friends and ask them to take my kid, especially at 10:00 on a weeknight. But I did send out an SOS text, and a Tweet, and I know I had faithful friends praying for me. However, I need to work on finding people who I can call at 9:00 pm to come stay with my child, because my husband does work nights, and we have a unique situation. My mom’s recovery pain was compounded the next day when she realized Keith had taken the day off to stay home with our son, because he couldn’t come with me (five hours of sleep is sorta okay on me; it’s not okay at all on a six year old with a sleep disorder in a brand new chaotic environment).
I’m not a fan at all of the phrase “if God calls you to it, He’ll lead you through it,” but God does call us to honor our parents, period. I do believe that He doesn’t leave us alone – He did promise us His Holy Spirit, after all. If you are part of this sandwich generation that is rising up rapidly, and you have tips on honoring your parents, please feel free to share them! There’s not a lot out there about how to do this “the right way!”