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Allison Althoff
Allison Althoff
Natalie Lederhouse
Natalie Lederhouse

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April 20, 2010

Sandwiched In

I never expected to be a parent to both my children and my mother.

The term “sandwich generation” is used to describe middle-aged adults (primarily 45- to 54-year-olds) who have elderly parents and dependent children. Based on this, I’m living a triple-decker club life. With a toddler grandson, a middle-schooler, and three college-age adults living under one roof with us, plus my 70-something mother in a nursing home 15 miles away, and my in-laws across the street, my husband and I are firmly pressed in on all sides.

According to an AARP report, we’re not alone. Forty-four percent of people our age have at least one living parent and one child under age 21. Approximately 7 percent live in a household containing three generations—oneself, one’s parents or in-laws, and one’s children. Parents my age are often paying for college expenses. At the same time, they may be footing the bill for significant medical expenses, running errands, and transporting aging parents to frequent doctor visits. Longer life spans (77.8 years is the average life expectancy) and couples waiting later to start their families has created a care-giving scenario that few families are prepared to manage.

I know. I’m one of those families.

Somewhere between my third and fourth son, my mother went from being my caregiver—the woman I called when I needed moral support and advice for raising our kids—to me being hers. After a series of unfortunate events, my mom’s life took a nose dive and she was no longer able to care for herself. My dad long gone, my siblings and I were left to pick up the pieces of her new Medicaid life while simultaneously picking up pieces of board games and Lego sets. I quickly realized that at the same time I had been reading books on parenting, I should have been giving equal time to aging-parenting books.

In her article, “What Shall We Do With Mother,” (part of a download on Kyria called, “The Sandwich Generation”) author Virginia Stem Owens shares how she and her parents had prepared for their inevitable death but, like most of us, had failed to prepare for their decline.

Preparing for the “long goodbye” as Stem Owens calls it, has been on my mind a lot these days. If my maternal grandmother’s lifespan is any predictor, we could be “mothering” my mom for two more decades.

After having lost my father when he was only 46, I hope we’re fortunate enough to see my mom live to be at least twice his age. What I’m becoming keenly aware of, though, is that with each passing year, she becomes less able to do what she could do the year before. A fall she took two weeks ago could mark the start of a downward health spiral, or the beginning of intense, chronic pain that robs her of whatever quality of life she was enjoying up to this point.

In between visits to her nursing home, we babysit our grandson, go to our 11-year-old’s football games, and help fill out financial aid forms with our college kids. We will likely live in the grip of competing seasons of life for many more years.

Being part of the sandwich generation isn’t a demographic I aspired to, but it’s where I find myself: “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Related Tags: Hardships, Parenting


I'm not at the point of becoming a sandwich (much less a triple decker club), but I anticipate that happening soon as I watch my parents become more tired when they watch my two young daughters. We've already discussed what will happen when they can't handle living in a house: assisted living. We'll see what happens when assisted living isn't enough to care for them. I like the reference to the 2 Cor verse; you'd think the apostle Paul was a "sandwicher" from the description in that verse!

Thanks Kyria

I was crying about this very thing this morning. Thank you so much for writing this article. I hope you will do a follow up with some suggestions. My mother is 82 and has multiple health issues. My Dad is 78 and had a TIA last summer. They live in Ga., I live in Ohio and...I'm an only child. They have been here with me for three months. It's becoming clear that Dad can't take care of mother alone. Trying to stay on top of my life as well as spend time with them and their needs makes every day full of conflicts and challenges. (Nothing like yours of course) Anyway....thanks so much for this! What a blessing to know I'm not alone.

I am a member of this group too. Every day poses a challenge since apart from being sandwich, I am also a single parent. There are days that there was just not enough time nor energy to juggle everything, from work, raising a child and attending to the needs of my parents. Thankfully though my father can still help in taking care of my mother who suffered a stroke.

I agree with the previous post, there are days that you just want to cry but you know that you can't afford to break down.But God is good because He keeps giving me the strength to carry on.

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