October 30, 2003
Sandwiched Between Generations
Like many working mothers, Rose Ziff was already spread pretty thin when she took on care-giving responsibility for her 85-year-old mother. The Culver City resident works full time as an administrator at UCLA. She and her husband, Ron, are raising two daughters, ages 12 and 10, and dealing with their younger daughter's recent autism diagnosis. In her limited discretionary time, Ziff was co-leading the 10-year-old's Brownie troop, serving on her synagogue's board of directors and co-chairing the religious school's parent association. In April, Ziff added another ball in the air by moving her mother, Evelyn Goldman, from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Ziff made the decision after her mother broke her hip a second time and was recuperating while Ziff's stepfather was succumbing to terminal cancer. Physically and emotionally unable to even leave the house, Goldman led what Ziff described as "a dismal kind of existence isolated with a dying man and a caregiver" until her stepfather died in March. Determined to give her mother a more positive environment and a chance to develop a relationship with her California granddaughters, Ziff moved her mother into a board-and-care facility in Westwood.
Ziff's experience is becoming more common. She is part of a group dubbed "the sandwich generation," because they are simultaneously caring for young children and aging parents. Women between 40 and 54 years old who are working and have children are most likely to shoulder elder care responsibilities, according to AARP.
The sandwich generation "is a very difficult place to be because the pressures are tremendous," said Susie Forer-Dehrey, associate executive director at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. She said that parents and children both struggle when it comes time to acknowledge that the parent can no longer function independently.
"There's almost this dance we do with our parents because we want them to continue to be independent and function and be out in the community and we know that to take away their independence would not only be devastating for them but also have implications for our entire family," Forer-Dehrey said.
Now Ziff is experiencing that struggle. "I didn't know it was going to be this hard," she said. "It's like childbirth -- people can tell you about it ... but you don't really know what it's like until you experience it.... I feel like I have a third child, except there's all this [emotional] baggage that goes along with it."
Ziff placed her mother in a board-and-care facility run by Michael Gabai, a fellow congregant at Adat Shalom synagogue in Westwood. Gabai manages three private homes in Westside neighborhoods that have been converted to accommodate up to six residents. There, Goldman has a private room and bath, assistance with dressing and bathing, meals, recreational activities and outings, and transportation to the doctor.
Ziff said her mother "dramatically improved once she was removed from the environment of death and dying." She enjoys getting to know her granddaughters, and going to classes, the mall and the theater. But Goldman cannot walk unassisted, and suffers anxiety attacks. She frequently calls Ziff asking that her daughter drop everything to come visit.
While having her mother nearby has added complications to her life, Ziff feels she made the right decision. "I wouldn't trade it for anything. If I didn't get to spend her last years with her, I think I would be sad the rest of my life," Ziff said. "Sometimes I think, 'I can't handle this,' but I realize that in a couple of years, I'll wish I was still complaining. That helps keep things in perspective."