Mothering Mother: Secrets to Happiness From My Mom, A Sandwich Caregiver

beautiful Grandma

My grandmother, Ada, whose daughter cared for her following post-stroke disability

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Whether you choose to buy a card, send flowers, or purchase a gift, Mother’s Day is an annual reminder to affirm our love and show recognition for the amazing ways our mothers impact our lives. In this very special post, my mother Nora draws from over two decades of caregiving experience to share the secrets to happiness as a sandwich caregiver.

As an only child, I share a very close relationship with my Mother Nora. I make a point to be vocal about my love, gratitude, and admiration of my Mom. When near her, I feel five years old all over again: To me, she is the most beautiful person on this planet.

Like many new mothers, at age forty Nora thought she had it all; a healthy baby girl, a happy husband, and her own nearby mother Ada just next door to share the experience. As quickly as it came, everything changed.

My grandmother Ada suffered a stroke, leaving her paralyzed on her left side. Because Ada was unable to feed or bathe herself and was left with restricted communication ability, my mother served as her main caregiver for over 10 years. Every single day I watched the emotional, financial, and healthcare challenges my mother shouldered. Squished atop her eldercare duties, Nora quietly endured the highs-and-lows of marriage and child-rearing all while running a successful entrepreneurial venture.

For nearly twenty years, my mother was one of this nation’s 22 million “Sandwich Caregivers”. Day in and day out she tirelessly balanced the roles of caregiver to her aging parents, mother, wife, business owner, friend, …and just being “Nora”. She is my superwoman.

Nora was never prepared for eldercare, yet mothering her mother profoundly changed her for the better. Since my grandmother’s passing, Nora has come to peace with the experience and can reflect on the strengths to be extracted – a privilege most sandwich caregiver’s in the thick of eldercare do not get.

My Mom

My favorite photo of my mother Nora

This Mother’s Day, I honor my own mother’s resolve and fortitude in caring for her aging parents. Here she shares what she wish she knew then — the secrets to a happy life as a sandwich caregiver. Enter Nora:

  • Everything is temporary. When stress arises, it’s hard to see beyond the challenge ahead. It can feel overwhelming. Remind yourself you are doing the best you can with what is within your control. Having been a caregiver for so many years, I often felt angry: Why was I in this situation? When the anger arises, ground yourself in the fact that everything is temporary because things do change. Make the best of what you can and appreciate the ride. There are so many lessons to be learned. Instead of finding resentment in being a caregiver, try to find your purpose.
  • It’s okay to cry. As a caregiver, you love so much and so deeply. When emotions overwhelm you, it is healthy to let them out. A good cry feels cathartic and can help you clear your head. Allow yourself 10-15 minutes a day to sit quietly and let your thoughts race. Then put it to the side. Whatever you do, don’t dwell — you have to keep moving forward.
  • Follow in your Mom’s footsteps. As my time caring for Mom went on, I realized how much I had taken on her  positive qualities: her warmth, perseverance, strength, determination, and hearty work ethic. We all love our mothers. They are so unique in their own ways. My mother cooked, she cleaned, she did yard-work, and now I’m following in her footsteps.
  • Spend time with your loved one. My mother lost her ability to communicate after the stroke. As difficult as it was for me to deal with, I cannot imagine the fear she often felt. As she aged, she wanted nothing more than for us to sit with her and hold her hand. Something so simple was such a special part of our mother-daughter bond.
  • Choose what’s best for loved one. After her stroke and subsequent disability, Ada wanted to remain at home.  We honored her choice and in fact it was more convenient to care for her in the house. I could do my chores around caring for my Mom and it ensured I could always keep an eye on her. It was more economical than putting her in a nursing home and more comfortable for Ada. She preferred to be near her husband, daughter, and granddaughter. Since there was no set schedule to ascribe to like in a facility, relatives visited when convenient.  Home stay gave Ada a sense of control and dignity as she aged.
  • You will learn as you go. When you’re forced to become a caregiver to your aging mother, you learn a lot about yourself very quickly. Besides learning how to intimately care for the woman who gave you life, you are learning what it takes to run the rest of your family and your business. It makes you see strength in yourself that you never knew was there before. You tap into something deeper and realize exactly how much you are capable of achieving.


Thank you, Mom, for your wisdom, unbreakable character, and selfless spirit. There is not a day that goes by that I am not truly grateful that I learned how to be an example to others  from the woman who is mine.

What is the most valuable lesson you ever learned from your mother?

Are you a sandwich caregiver mothering your mother? What would you like to tell another women in the same shoes on this Mothers Day?

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