‘The sandwich generation’ is a popular phrase that often pops up in the media, and it’s an interesting way to look at parenting, Julie Houghton writes.
Referring mostly to baby boomers, it describes people in mid-life who are usually still working, finding that their elderly parents need more help, and that their children are producing babies who need grandparents and the assistance they can provide.
‘Sandwiched’ between these expectations, this can be a fraught time—just as we feel we have raised our children and can now have some freedom, along come new responsibilities.
While former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser made famous the phrase ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’, if we take a moment to think about it most of us would find an easy life boring. Unlimited leisure time and freedom sounds good on paper. However, the reality is that we are wired to help each other and our souls need more than a life full of vacuous pleasure—as much as it is nice to have a little of that!
Being a parent is a vastly different experience in mid-life than it is when you have little children. Back then, life seemed to move at a furious pace. It was often a struggle to keep on top of everything and look after our children the way we felt they deserved. A wise maternal and child health nurse told me many years ago that there was no such thing as a ‘good mother’ and that all an unsure young mum needed to be was a ‘good enough mother’. I learned that, while I couldn’t be perfect, I could make sure my baby was well cared for.
As those gorgeous toddlers morph into challenging teenagers, the parenting model changes from ‘Do as I say’ to the little ones, to needing endless explanations and negotiating powers with the adolescents.
And if anyone thinks that parenting responsibilities finish at 21, they are in for a rude shock. Parenting young adults is a skill all of its own, and mostly a matter of trial and error.
During these parenting stages, often we have had the help and advice of our own parents but as they become much older we find the tables turn.
We find that our role as a child of older parents means that the duty of care is no longer theirs for us but ours for them.
There are two ways we can look at this stage of parenting. We can be resentful and frustrated that we are still needed to help people when we thought our time was now our own. Or if we were fortunate enough to have a happy childhood and good relationships with our parents, we can focus on the fact that we received lots of help and love from our parents with the grandchildren we presented them with, and now it’s our turn to step up.
In the list of the Ten Commandments is “Honour your father and mother” and it can be a privilege to return the love and help we received from our parents when we were young.
Of course, if we had parents who weren’t loving or attentive, it can be hard to find the good grace to care for them when we are called on. Being able to forgive them for this is important if we are to help them in their hour of need, both for them and for us.