As a female reader smack dab in mid-life, with retired parents and kids flying out of the nest, I was drawn to veteran author Phil Callaway’s FAMILY SQUEEZE immediately. Best of all, it made me laugh.
As Callaway says, his book is for those of us in the “Middle Ages,” or in the family “sandwich.” I’m in my 40s, which, as Callaway says, likely means my husband and I have “The Eagles Greatest Hits” on cassette, LP record, eight-track, CD, mp3, your laptop and your iPod. Well, we gave away the LP. But his point is that at our age, we’ll likely be caring for an in-law or parent at some point while adjusting to teens or watching our children become young adults. All this happens when we’re having our own adjustments to middle age, unwanted hair loss and hair gain, and hot flashes. God does have a sense of humor.
Just as his parents began needing assistance, Callaway shares, his three children started becoming teens. “I suppose this is the microcosm of our lives the past few years. Dreaming. Dreading. Laughing. Answering the phone a little less eagerly. We are parenting two generations now, wedged between the demands of elderly dependents and energetic teens….” His short, funny chapters read like stand-up comedy routines --- more about personal stories than self-help.
On teens, Callaway advises: Do not compare yourselves with other parents who sit in church looking happy and well organized. “Chances are they are heavily medicated and hours from being institutionalized.”
On aging parents: Callaway shares his dad’s favorite saying: “If you can start the day without caffeine, live without complaining, eat the same food every day and be grateful, relax without liquor, and sleep without the aid of drugs, you are probably the family dog.”
Cartoons sprinkled throughout the book offer more laughs. My favorite: a mother of screaming toddlers trying to have coffee with an elderly woman who is smiling and telling her, “Enjoy each moment…they grow up so fast.” Who among us hasn’t experienced this --- and resisted the urge to smack the person?
Callaway’s serious advice mingles with the humor. How would you want to be treated as you age? Callaway moved his parents into a suite he built onto his house, but when Alzheimer’s reared its head a few years later, and he had to take away his father’s car keys, the decisions weren’t so easy. Eventually, he shares, his parents needed 24-hour medical care. Readers who have been faced with the same sort of situations will relate. Callaway is honest in sharing his anguish at not being able to solve all the problems of caring for aging parents or, for that matter, parenting teens. He says he did the thing he knew how to, just taking the next step forward.
What’s most engaging about Callaway’s book are these personal anecdotes, mostly told with a light touch. But intermingled throughout are some solid tips for survival. On marriage: “Finding the right person… is less important than being the right person.” About teens: Laugh a lot. Be Flexible. Help your kids think through making good decisions. Affirm. Stay connected. Most importantly, he reiterates in chapter after chapter to spend time with your teens, your parents and your spouse during the sandwich years.
Less successful, perhaps, are his stories about his struggles with money and success. They seem like padding, and I found them a dissonant note. This is also a book squarely aimed at married readers. It might also have been helpful if some of the chapters were directed towards single parents trying to cope with the same issues.
But if, between the midlife crisis, teenage children and aging parents, you discover that life is hard, Callaway says, “I doubt I have learned one solitary thing worth remembering that was not forged in the furnace of suffering.” Because he’s dealt with the issues he’s writing about, his words have the ring of authenticity. Callaway is a good companion for married readers embarking on the sandwich years.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011