Sandwiched between aging parents and young adult children – what does one do?

It is a sad day indeed when one realizes that the role of parent-child has somehow changed to the role of child parenting parent. At this stage in our lives, we, the children of Italian immigrants are facing a similar challenge: our parents have aged, and suddenly, they need us more than ever. On the flip side, our children, no longer babies or toddlers, are young adults, perhaps young parents themselves, and they seem to need us more than ever. I ask you - what is wrong with this equation?


In the midst of the carting our parents around to a multitude of doctor appointments, patronato appointments, trips to grocery stores, drug stores, and so on and so on, our cell phones are working overtime as our adult offspring are looking for a babysitter, advice on burping, or wedding planning, moves to and from university,  etc., etc., you get the picture.

I often try to look at the situation of being stretched in all directions, with a bit of humour, calling myself Elastigirl, convincing myself that I can handle all of the demands being made on my time. But another challenging role remains that has gone unmentioned, and too often, goes overlooked by the older generation and the younger generation: what about time to develop my career? what about time to look after my home, my marriage, my health, my dreams?

It is a juggling act that many of us in our fourth and fifth decades are trying to pull off on a daily basis. At times, I find myself feeling like a martyr, giving up precious minutes, hours, all during the course of a day where there never seem to be enough precious minutes and hours. Other times, I feel like a complainer, as I hear myself venting to the girlfriends, the husband, the snoring priest in the confessional box. Often times, I find myself seeking solace, relief, solitude, as I wander aimlessly through the aisles of one home decor store or fashion boutique, followed by a secret trip to the drive-thru, eating alone in my car, surrounded by seagulls, and I ask myself, “what has become of my life?”

I always prided myself on the belief that the mission of the Italian daughter, wife, and mother, was to “nurture, nurture, nurture and please”. The more that was asked of my time, the more I felt needed, wanted, and loved. Today, much of that has changed. I am now an older and wiser Italian daughter, wife and mother, who realizes that I want some time to my self, for myself, and by myself, and by actually nurturing myself, I am better to my aging parents, dear husband, and the adult children. However, no good deed goes unpunished. It is next to impossible for the Italian daughter or son to say, “no, not today” to their aging parent, especially after the years of sacrifice and doting, nurturing, protecting, cooking, baking, babysitting, and unconditional love they have smothered us with.

In the past year, I have noticed my parents slowing down quite a bit. Walking through the crowded aisles of Costco, I see how the days of us buzzing in and out of stores, or running errands for an entire afternoon are long gone. Nowadays, it takes time for my mid to late 80 year old parents to get in and out of the car, walk or stand for very long, and traveling out of the city or the country, for that matter, is out of the question.  My siblings and I are extremely grateful that they remain independent in their own homes, however, that too is becoming a challenge, and I cringe just thinking about the transition for them when they have to face leaving it behind, and adjusting to a new environment.

While this is going on, children are planning engagements, weddings, buying first homes, first babies, and the family home turns into a revolving door of activity. Some of us have our parents or in-laws living with them, and this adds a whole new dimension to the term “multigenerational home.” At my house, we have seven adults, ages 19 to 84, and a number of cats floating in and out at any given time of day or night. Amid the chaos and chatter, one constant remains, and for this, I am very grateful. Family - la familglia - that is all that matters, that is all that has ever mattered and that is all that ever will matter, and this bond, strong like no other, was instilled in every child of Italian immigrants, by none other than their parents.

Now, off to the denturist to a fitting, followed by the orthodontist for a fitting, followed by the bridal shop for a fitting, followed by......etc. etc., You get the picture.

By Dosi Cotroneo