In Praise Of… The Sandwich Generation

When you are in your 50s, there is always a moment when you realise that you are finally a real adult (and I’m not talking about the pretend adult you have been up to this point, where you look important and authoritative, but still occasionally call your mum or dad for advice).

It’s when you have to sit down with your siblings (assuming you have some) and make the tough decisions about your parents. For me, this came about when my father was dying of prostate cancer and my sisters and I worked out how we could help my mother nurse him through those final days.

Our mother didn’t want to be left alone with Dad overnight – which was understandable given there was a real chance that he would pass away any moment – and we wanted to see if we could set up a roster where one of us could be there for them both every night.

And, of course, each of us was also balancing full-time paid employment and the needs of our own families. It was the classic conundrum of being in the ‘sandwich generation’, stuck between the needs of ageing parents and demands of growing families.

The conversation went roughly like this:

“I can do Wednesday nights because I work from home on Thursdays and the kids don’t have any soccer training that night.”

“Great! I can do Tuesday because I should have my budget finalised by Monday at work and can do a short day that night and go to work late the next day.”

“Mmmm. I have a lot going on at the office so Sunday might be best and we can bring the kids up for the day with Nanna and Pop before Rob takes them home and I stay overnight, catching the train to work from their house the next day.”

And, of course, all those arrangements then involved other parents at school – organising drop-offs, pickups and car pools. Favours that were then paid back when our friends had to get on the caring merry-go-round with their own parents.

Some of my friends also come from non-English-speaking backgrounds, which meant they are often the translator for their Greek/Italian/Vietnamese parents at various medical appointments. Even if their parent’s English was pretty good, medical terminology (and health issues) often meant that a younger person was needed at the appointments for added security.

I call it the juggling jungle. All I can say is thank God for mobile phones – and Google calendar! I can’t imagine what it would have been like for our parents before we had this technology. Or perhaps back in their days we weren’t all balancing two careers with care-giving roles.

Here we are providing the same care for our parents that they provided for their own parents years before – albeit without the work responsibilities that we now have.

And somehow, parents today seem to run around after their teenage kids more these days. Modern expectations are much higher. I can’t remember my parents being at all my sporting matches. It was much more the drop-us-off-at-the-cricket-nets and pick-us-up-an-hour-later type of deal.

And the idea of my dad taking time off work to come to a school assembly was laughable. A modern father, however, is often in the audience of school plays and makes it to every parent/teacher night. I even try to make it to most of my 27-year-old daughter’s roller derby matches.

It’s exhausting being in the squeeze between generations, yet weirdly rewarding. I’ve seen so many more significant moments in my children’s lives than my parents ever did and I think I am richer for it. And those moments I spent with my father before he died are among the most special memories I have.

Let’s just see if my kids return the favour in 25 years time…

Are you in the sandwich generation? Share your story below.

(Feature image: Little Miss Sunshine © 2006 Twentieth Century Fox)

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