BY NANCY SCHRINER
ARE YOU CAUGHT IN THE SANDWICH GENERATION—PARENTING BOTH YOUR CHILDREN AND YOUR PARENTS?
It was February 2009 and the 10 p.m. phone call would change my life. The school board meeting was over and I was one of many who were being laid off. What do I do now?
Four months later I was on a trip to middle Georgia in a U-Haul truck where I, at age 55, would start my new life. I was welcomed into my daughter’s home and would live with her young family for five months.
Who am I now? That was my number one question while living with them. The same scenario undoubtedly has been repeated in thousands of households across central Georgia. Some people, like me, could make an extensive move, buy a house, and basically start over. For others, the prospects were not so rosy.
Job loss is not the only reason three generations wind up in the same household. The reasons can be as varied as the participants involved. Whatever the case, unique challenges face each generation. Whether they are positive or negative depends on different family dynamics. Emotions, expectations, communication, and logistics are only a few of the areas that can impact the family.
The term “sandwich” generation was first used in 1981 and referred to parents in their 50s and 60s who were taking care of young adults in their home at the same time they were caring for their elderly parents. Jim and Mary Rosseau, of Warner Robins, decided ten years ago to move Jim’s mother, Carol, into their home, along with Brian and Angela, their teenage children.
Miss Carol passed away this year, but the whole family fondly remembers the time they spent with her. “We used to eat promptly at 6:30 pm with grandma,” Angela said, “it was never boring listening to the stories she would tell!”
While the positives clearly outweighed the negatives in this family, Jim and Mary readily agree that there were adjustments the family had to make. “She relied on us for practically everything,” Mary acknowledges, “someone in the family always had to be available to take her everywhere she went.” Having his mother in the house posed unique challenges for Jim, who said, “I could never get away with anything!” Carol would say, “Now Jim, you’re being naughty, don’t tell me what to do!”
In the years since 1981, the term “sandwich” generation has expanded to include parents in their 30s and 40s who have young children, and are trying to care for their aging parents.
Brenda Armstrong, of Centerville, remembers the challenges she faced when her son, and his two young daughters moved in with her and her mother, Miss Frances. According to Brenda, the positive outcomes included “tag teaming” with her mother when caring for the children and helping with homework. “That eliminated extra babysitting expenses, which benefited our whole family,” Brenda said. “On the other hand,” she quipped, “a big negative was the three households of furniture and clothes to store! It made the house very crowded. It was full of love, but very crowded!”
Statistics for the year 2000 reveal that parents having young adults in the house, ages 18-24, was up to 52% of all households. Now, after the “great” recession, the figures are probably higher. In the same 2000 study almost 50% of all households had at least one elderly parent still living. This means more and more parents are finding themselves “squeezed” between an older and younger generation. A new term, “boomerang” children, the ones who come back home to live after college because they can’t find a job, add even more stress to the already overwhelmed “sandwich” generation.
Family meetings, with all members present and committed to finding solutions, can help to alleviate stress in the home. Despite the many challenges these families face, there are opportunities for positive outcomes. No matter their age, “sandwich” generations have many stressors in common:
Financial burdens They bear the bulk of the expenses of the home, many times while handling a demanding career. They must keep financially stable for the sake of the whole family.
Feelings of isolation Their friends may not be faced with the same circumstances.
Guilt They feel like they should be doing more.
Marriage conflicts One spouse may feel neglected or has to postpone long-held dreams of retirement or travel because of the needs of others in the family.
Legal issues Necessary paperwork, for college applications or for an elderly parent, can tie up what seems like endless hours.
Adequate time Allocating time for everyone seems impossible.
Depression Often these parents feel pulled apart and cannot see an end in sight, which can lead to a hopeless outlook.
FOR GRANDMA OR GRANDPA:
- Enjoying the companionship of the whole family
- Having the opportunity to spend quality time with each individual in the family
- Having more help with homework
- Having another adult to listen and play with them or give wise advice
- Having help with household chores
- Having help with childcare
In the end, the success of a three generation household will depend largely upon the willingness of the family to make it work. An extraordinary dose of love and patience is paramount in this kind of endeavor.#