The Sandwich Generation

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

My girls are lucky to live only half a mile from my parents; my parents actually moved to be nearer to us after my second daughter was born, and their intention was clear—to downsize from their pre-grandparent life and spend as much time as possible with their granddaughters. The situation works beautifully for everyone involved: high-quality occasional babysitting so my husband and I get regular dates, and the joyful bonding between my daughters and my parents. And while it’s not an issue yet, I can certainly see a future where I’m thankful that my parents live nearby because my daughters and I will be caring for them. Given my age, my children’s age, and my parents’ ages, I’m likely to be part of what’s called “the sandwich generation.”

This sandwiching is only one of the many issues discusses in her article “How Older Parenthood Will Upend American Society”. She writes:

But the experience of being an older parent also has its emotional disadvantages. For one thing, as soon as we procrastinators manage to have kids, we also become members of the “sandwich generation.” That is, we’re caught between our toddlers tugging on one hand and our parents talking on the phone in the other, giving us the latest updates on their ailments. Grandparents well into their senescence provide less of the support younger grandparents offer—the babysitting, the spoiling, the special bonds between children and their elders through which family traditions are passed.

Delaying parenthood offers positive consequences, like greater stability for children and higher levels of income and education, as well as more stable marriages for parents. But there is a host of uncertain variables with older parenthood though, in terms of health, economics, and social-well being.

What Shulevitz terms “the scary consequences of the grayest generation” indicates a crisis of care, children with unexplained developmental delays and disorders, parents undergoing intensive (and potentially dangerous) fertility treatments, and aging families with higher needs of care and declining support systems. Part of the problem Shulevitz points to is the unpredictability of the future, the unknowability of the long-term social impact of later parenthood. The problem reminds me of a recent Slate article displaying comics used to “sell” Social Security in the 1960s. One of the featured comics posits a girl who considers delaying her marriage to provide financial help for her family; she is able to marry because of Social Security, the heroic institution funding the comic book. Yet in spite of the good intentions of that institution, we find ourselves, 50 years later, in much the same position, sandwiched between generations growing more distant in age and more in need of high-quality care.

Shulevitz’s article manifests this divide, and its attendant uncertainty, in medical, financial, and social terms. As Christians, it is imperative to consider, for our own families, our communities, and our world, what it means to live and care as neighbors within “the sandwich generation.”

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • http://mimsy811.blogspot.com Mary Novaria

    That’s me, right in the middle of the sandwich! Thanks for your piece. I enjoyed it!

  • Daniel

    Keep in mind that this sandwich is a Dagwood…there are multiple layers. Our children will likely be sandwiched between caring for us and their little ones.

    But really, is this historically a little more common? Of course, people are living longer, but this is at least partially offset by people marrying and having kids later, too. It’s not so much a weird, new reality in families, but what every generation has faced since the beginning.

  • Pingback: The Sandwich Generation Issues – News and Information for Boomers and Seniors, December 17, 2012 | SandwichINK for the Sandwich Generation


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