Reflections on the sandwich generation


I am a member of the sandwich generation. Most define that to mean someone who is taking care of younger children along with older parents.

Mine is not a traditional sandwich arrangement.

I am involved in my children’s lives but I’m proud to say that they are grown, living on their own and doing well. We are well-connected via phone and text. And we “speak” often, sometimes daily. I like those connections and the involvement. I don’t consider these close communications to be bothersome or unwelcome. Many of my peers are similarly connected to their adult children. It’s a different era than when we were growing up and our parents called – or we called them – once a week. 

My parents are also living on their own. But now they need some help navigating a world filled with more technology than anyone could have imagined.

I feel blessed to have sharp, reasonably healthy parents who, at ages 80 and 88, rarely ask for in-person assistance from their children, who are scattered in locations hours away from their home.

So when help is needed, nobody thinks twice about jumping in and offering it. And sometimes, no request is necessary. That was the case recently when the family came together to help my parents with a move. It was a testament to strength and fortitude that it happened.  We were helping to move a more than 50-year-old business from one office to another: No retirement here.

Everyone jumped in according to their abilities. If we couldn’t be there in person, we were there with support and suggestions. Sometimes, that’s as important as actually hauling boxes.

And the strength and fortitude of my folks is remarkable. My legs gave out long before Dad’s did. At 80, he seemed to have the kind of reserves we hope for ourselves.

The packing was tedious and took several days. The unpacking and setup even more so. It’s still ongoing. This isn’t the first time for a move. But each time we are all a little older … and slower … and there’s more stuff. Still, Dad goes on with plenty of energy.

I am certain that my family situation isn’t unique. When I told tales of the move, just about everyone I spoke with had a nontraditional “sandwich” tale of their own. Baby boomers are rewriting the book when it comes to interacting with the younger and the older generation.

The next request for our help will come in the fall, when one of my children moves from one apartment to another. That child has already hired movers for the heavy stuff. A fourth-floor apartment and parents with bad backs makes the money spent on movers a good investment. But we are glad to be close enough to be able to help with the small things. It’s yet another connection that keeps us close.

And we hope they will pay it forward when we ask – maybe even before we ask!

This sandwich stuff really isn’t new. A generation or two ago, grandparents lived in the same house with parents and children. It just didn’t have the same name. And a multigenerational household certainly must have made keeping an eye on the older and younger generation a little easier and more natural.

And don’t many people have fond memories of that time period?

I can’t even remember a time before I knew that we should honor our father and mother. As an adult, there are so many ways to interpret that commandment. We start by teaching it to our children and then lead by example, starting with remembering birthdays and frequent check-in phone calls, and continuing with things that require our physical presence and assistance.

So, even though helping with a move is nobody’s idea of a good time, what an honor it is to still have parents to honor. Really, when you think about it, being part of a sandwich generation is more privilege than burden.