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Responsibility to care for others grows for ‘sandwich generation’

The following story appeared in the August 26 Idaho Catholic Register.

Jay Wonacott

Marriage for Life

I suddenly realized recently that I am now part of the “sandwich generation.”

This sobering reality occurred to me while I was discussing relationships and the economy with my adult daughters one morning, and an hour later

I was having a Zoom meeting with

a Medicare agent and talking to the finance director at the assisted living home where my elderly aunt and uncle now live.

A article from last year, “Why The Sandwich Generation Is So Stressed Out,” started to make a lot more sense to me now that I am responding to the needs of these loved ones. The sandwich generation, or sometimes called the “panini” generation depending on how “pressed” they feel, are middle-agers who support their children, parents, grandparents or other older adults financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

There is really nothing entirely new with this idea that the middle generation gets the “squeeze” from those who have come before them and those following them. I saw my parents go through the same experience. It will happen to our children, too. However, there have been mitigating and complicating factors during the last few years that add to the responsibility of the current sandwich generation.

The article reported that in the United States in July 2020, 52 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were living with their parents, the highest proportion recorded since the Great Depression. According to the article, “COVID-19 is also pushing millennials into the sandwich generation faster than might be expected. In the U.S., millennials now make up more than one-third of multigenerational caregivers – and this rate has been growing much faster during the pandemic than for GenXers and Baby Boomers. In other words, the pandemic has accelerated the slide into the sandwich, and with fewer of the resources that helped previous generations.” The article goes on to state that the pandemic has had crushing effects on employment, education, indebtedness and dating, meaning it may take longer for young adults to reach the milestones associated with less dependence on parents.

On the other side of the timeline there are those are in their 60s who experience what some call the double sandwich or the “club sandwich” generation. The BBC reports, “This involves, for instance, people in their 60s helping to care for their grandchildren, which allows their adult children to work, as well as supporting their own parents in their 90s.”

While there are challenges to inter-generational responsibilities, many grandparents have stepped forward as a stabilizing force. Amy Ziettlow of The Institute for Family Studies reports, “Grandparents have emerged as a stabilizing force for many mid-life adults for both good and bad reasons. On the good side, older generations live longer and are in better health than ever before, and thus spend more and higher quality time with younger generations. … Many grandparents must also compensate for their grown children’s compromised parenting abilities due to high rates of divorce, single parenthood, incarceration and substance abuse.”

Many of us are motivated by weight of honor to do what is right. The commandment to honor our parents does include a responsibility to do justice and help others.

This sense of honor has extended into the Catholic Church recognizing the importance of grandparents and the elderly in the life of the Church with the celebration of the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly which is now celebrated on the fourth Sunday in July.

Pope Francis’ message for this year’s World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly noted, “Old age is no time to give up and lower the sails, but a season of enduring fruitfulness: a new mission awaits us and bids us to the future. The special sensibility that those of us who are elderly have for the concerns, thoughts, and the affections that make us human should once again become the vocation of many. It would be a sign of our love to the younger generations. This would be our own contribution to the revolution of tenderness, a spiritual and non-violent revolution in which I encourage you, dear grandparents and elderly persons to take an active role.”

The Pope calls each of us to join a revolution of tenderness in our hearts to see the power of the opportunity to engage and soften our hearts to one another in the care of each other from the young, middle aged to the elderly. Each generation has something to offer the other.

As a member of the sandwich generation, I can’t help being caught up in the sometimes “burden” of being pulled in different directions from each side of the age divide. But, as I look to my children and to my aging mom and other older loved ones for whom I care, I can’t help but also feel the immense blessing to be able to engage in this journey with them.

We are in this together, and we all can be revolutionaries of tenderness (which means we will suffer for the good of others) and grow in our shared humanity – not alone, but from generation to generation.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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