I am the Sandwich Friday, Oct 4 2013 


The Sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.

According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance. US Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of older Americans aged 65 or older will double by the year 2030, to over 70 million.

Carol Abaya categorized the different scenarios involved in being a part of the sandwich generation.

  • Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
  • Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
  • Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care. [1]

Merriam-Webster officially added the term to its dictionary in July 2006.

The term “sandwich generation” was coined by Dorothy A Miller in 1981. [2]


My eldest son, mid 30’s and his son, 5, moved out of our home this last weekend.  They have been living with us for almost 2 years.  The joy of having that level of access to my grandson was tempered by being his parent much of the time, versus just being able to be his “Granny”.  My husband and I often had a differing opinions on how things involving our grown child and his child should be treated within our home, adding an additional level of stress to the situation.  But we made it though that phase of the sandwich, and looked forward to having our home and our time delegated back to ‘us’.  We joked about relearning how to have a two person conversation, how to cook a two person meal, about cooking meals we liked vs those the picky 5 yr old would eat, how we’d spent time ..just the two of us…..and so on.   It is a nice dream.  The financial side of the situation is ongoing, but that is another topic.

So, on day two of our ‘freedom’, when my parents called, upset and needing my help, I should not have been surprised.  We didn’t even get a week of ‘just us’ before other responsibilities pressed us back into service.  My parents are aging, not in the best of health, and are quick to call on me, rather than either of my brothers, when they want or need something.  There is a thin line between want and need.  I think they call me because 1) I am female and they are of that generation that believes that caregivers are female, 2) I am the oldest 3) I’ve been down this road before with  my mother in law and 4) I find a way to do what they want if I can.

My husband and I have been ‘the sandwich’ for so many years now, providing care for members of his family and mine, that I do not recall a time when we were not taking care of an aunt/parent/grandparent/sibling and a child at the same time.  It started in our 20’s and we are in our mid 50’s now.  We were the sandwich before there was a sandwich.  We’ve been able to regroup in the small gaps between, but each round it gets harder and harder to reconnect and adjust.   Since we only get one round on this planet, I’d like to assert, we’ve done our time caring for others and we need a break.  But reality is, that is not going to happen.  Buck up, Ms. Sandwich.  This one is a toasty footlong with extra cheese.

Forever My Child Thursday, Jul 7 2011 

It’s hard to watch a grown ‘child’ be unhappy and not be able to fix it.

When I was younger and I heard ‘old’ people talk about how your child stayed your child no matter how old they got, I had a hard time taking in the concept. I knew I would love my children no matter what, but I thought that once they became adults that, somehow, the parenting part of me would fade away. I thought they would make their mis-steps, and mistakes, have their triumphs and successes. They would be able to build on my life and their life would be better for it. Just as I learned from or was influenced by my parents and my life was better for it. I never dreamed that the natural progression of life would not happen that way.

I married young and I am still married to him. We’ve had plenty of ups and downs, and as I joked on Facebook on the date of our last anniversary, for all those doubters that thought we were too young, I think we are going to make it. I hoped that we set an example of the ebb and flow a marriage takes and somehow that rubbed off on our kids, empowering them to have what it takes to accomplished the same thing.

Now I find I have son with a marriage that is failing. And he is so unhappy, for his family, for his child, for his wife and for himself. I’ve watched as he has dropped 30 lbs in just a few months. He appears worn out, dark circles under his eyes, and lethargic. I can be supportive, listen to him, and such, but I cannot fix the problem.

I find this situation extremely stressful. My head knows the problem is not mine to fix, but my heart doesn’t want him to hurt, so therefore, fixing it becomes something I want to do. And yet, I know I cannot.

And times are different know as well. This age of instant communication makes discord so easy and impersonal. How does one know the tone of any text or email? Now people can argue all day and night and never speak a word to one another. I also find that stressful.

So, I wait, listen and support. I try to understand. I worry. I remain a parent.

Thanksgiving 2010 Thursday, Nov 25 2010 

I have so many things to be thankful for and yet as I sit here I am not feeling very thankful.  Sad but true. Sometimes, while understanding the importance of the big picture, the little picture gets in the way.  And when that happens, it’s a little harder to let the big picture have its day.

We are a product of our upbringing whether we want to admit it or not.  Sometimes the result is to do things as our parents or those that influenced us did them, and sometimes it is to do the opposite. The influence doesn’t stop when we reach adulthood.  Whether good or bad, it continues to mold.

For me the holidays have always been a struggle.  My family didn’t do many big gatherings with relatives for several reasons, all legitimate.  My mother, during my growing up years, was an only child.  (The story of having siblings found later in life is too long for here.)  And for most of my life, we lived states away from her parents.  If we had any, I do not recall holidays at all with my mother’s family.  We also did not normally live close to Dad’s side.  I recall a Thanksgivings spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s if we happened to be living close enough to drive in.  Strangely enough, I do not recall these events pleasantly.  It seems that drama always ensued.

So all this information is to say that I recall most of my growing up years to be Thanksgiving with my parents and brothers.  How factual this information really is, I cannot be certain. I just know that big, nice, warm Thanksgivings with football in the backyard, and cups of cider aren’t what pop into my head.

After marrying, the view changed.  His family is larger and much more involved in our lives.  My family faded out.   Since my marriage, my parents have not hosted one family event at their home.  If we get together, and that’s a big if, it is my home or at one of my two brother’s homes.  Travel is not an issue since we live in the same area, so it’s about arriving to eat, light conversation and going home.   Each year as the holiday approaches, I feel anxiety build.

We’ve hosted many a day, with one side or the other.  Last year we hosted my family, in another attempt to bring some closeness into us, but it was a disaster due to my father and his never-ending talking.  No one could get a word in and some of the topics were out of line.  People fled the second dinner was over.  After years of trying to keep things afloat, I decided to let it go.  I’ve always wanted a Thanksgiving that was my children and their families coming home to us.  Without drama.

My youngest son could not be with us and missed Thanksgiving entirely last year.  I wanted this year to be the make up year and have a nice day with him and my older son’s family.  The plans were made, menu etc.  But, alas, I did not count on my daughter in law.

New to our family, but never one to consider any feeling but her own, my son, my D-I-L and my only grandchild will not be coming here for the day.  Her immediate family is not gathering, with one of her sister’s going to her in-laws, but my D-I-L likes the stuffing her Aunt makes, so they are going to that Aunts house for the day.

So my request for a gathering was ……ignored?…disregarded?….I am not sure of the correct word.  My son,  what can I say, didn’t want to rock the boat.    I guess a compromise decision-making process is not part of their relationship.

So, we are cooking and the three of us will eat the best of the best, watch TV, play Wii, and nap.

And the next time money needs to be borrowed, maybe her aunt can loan it to her.

Bitter, party of one.  Yes, I know.  No one needs to tell me.

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