Introduction to The Sandwich Generation
In our culture, many of the people in my age group are now referred to as “The Sandwich Generation.” A lot of ladies around my age are sandwiched between growing children and aging parents. Most of my friends have at least one parent still living, and many still have children at home. Some have younger children, and are also caring for parents who are becoming more dependent on them as they age.
This, as you may know, is a tough spot to be in. Raising children is challenging all by itself. Add to that the responsibilities of making sure that an aging parent is cared for, and you have a recipe for stress! No human can do it all, so we are bound occasionally to fail and disappoint someone.
There is a great deal of guilt that goes with this sandwich generation lifestyle, and it comes from all directions. We feel guilty when we leave our children to care for our parents, and we feel guilty when we don’t. We feel guilty when we can’t do all that our parents need or want us to do, and we feel guilty when dinner is lame or the house is a mess because we simply cannot do it all. We feel guilty when our husbands get the short end of the stick because of the demands of our children and our parents. Even if they don’t complain, there is still that expectation in the back of our minds that we really should be able to do it all.
So, is that true? Should we be able to do it all? Is there something wrong with us if we find ourselves frazzled and overwhelmed by the responsibilities we face? After all, the Bible does tell us to honor our parents, and to take care of widows. But how can we do this without letting our child-rearing and homemaking responsibilities slip? I believe that the answer to this question lies in how you look at it: Instead of seeing ourselves as sandwiched between the obligations of elder care and child rearing, I’d like us to consider a different perspective on this situation.
Our parents and our children both fall into the same category: Family. The Bible says that the Lord has set people in families, and in His sovereignty, He makes them exactly as He wants them to be. Why does our society seem to need to separate aging parents from their children and grandchildren? Even as I type this, two “retirement communities” are being built in my town. Now, I am not saying that there aren’t circumstances where people need or want to live in a senior living situation, but why do we assume that this is always the case? I believe that we miss out on many blessings when we hand our parents off to be cared for by others so that we can take little Jimmy and Janie to soccer practice and tuba lessons.
In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul mentions Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and the impact they both had on his faith. Imagine if Timothy’s grandmother had been placed in a retirement home, to live separately from the family, with only occasional weekend visits. This would have robbed Timothy of a very important dimension of his spiritual upbringing—the wisdom and experience of his grandmother. What if Naomi had not lived with Ruth and Boaz after Obed was born? The Bible tells us that she was so closely involved with the family that the townspeople proclaimed, “Naomi has a son!” when Ruth gave birth to Obed. Take a moment to imagine all that Obed would have missed out on, had Naomi not been a significant part of his life.
Now, here’s what I am not saying: I am not saying that every elderly parent should live with their adult children and their families. Some need medical care that is beyond the capability of their adult children. Some seniors want to live on their own, and that is their prerogative, provided they are able to care for themselves reasonably well. And some aging parents are just not a good influence on our children, because they are unbelievers, or are professing believers who do not demonstrate the fruits of righteousness. What I am saying is that, given the right circumstances, there can be a great blessing in weaving your children’s lives in with their grandparents’. Whether or not you live in the same home, you can offer your children many opportunities to enjoy these blessings.
For example, let’s say that your widowed mother is having trouble preparing food for herself, and is not getting proper nutrition. You and your children can prepare some freezer meals for her, and take them over when you visit. Another idea would be for you, your aging parent, and your children to prepare and enjoy a simple lunch together. The family can also help with yard work, shopping, housework, and other simple tasks. As your children work with you to serve your parents, they will learn valuable lessons about family, love, and service. Even if your parents are not believers, your children will still benefit from serving them selflessly; and just observing your family’s love for one another and God may influence your parents toward Christ.
Here Is the Point
Don’t separate care for your immediate family from care for your parents, with you being pulled between the two. There is a trend in restaurants these days toward wraps instead of sandwiches, and I think this offers us the perfect analogy. A sandwich is clearly layered: Bread, filling, bread; while a wrap has everything rolled up into one neat little package. So, consider yourself wrapped: You, your children, and your parents are all rolled up in one God-ordained family. Why not enjoy it together? Your parents and your children will benefit from the relationship, and you will find the burden of all that caregiving lifted when you include your family in your parents’ care.