The term “Sandwich Generation” was officially added to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary back in 2006. The Sandwich generation is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting (financially and/ or emotionally) their own children. It’s me and possibly you?
There are many ways to build the sandwich…
- 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 possibly grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
- Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care.
And the definition doesn’t mentioned the fact that for women, aging parents and young adult children all hit just about the same time as menopause. Talk about a fried, HOT mess!
As “children” in our midlife season, it’s a joy and privilege for us to help our aging parents in any way we can. God thought it so important that honor your parents was the first commandment with a promise attached to it. “Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” It’s not hard to understand why, especially after you have children of your own. I know I am forever indebted to my wonderful mom and dad for all their sacrifices, love, and gifts for me. I would do anything in my power to make this stage of their lives better and more joyful for them. The problem is the “answers” to the big issues of the golden years aren’t always entirely obvious — and often the days don’t end up feeling so golden to our parents. We feel powerless to give back to the ones we owe the most, and this hurts us.
And then there’s our children — at any age, they are our very hearts, beating outside our bodies. There is nothing within our power we wouldn’t do for their good. We never thought it possible to love them more than when their chubby faces peeked out of smocked dresses and cute little overalls. But we do. We love who they have become and all the potential we see for them. We pray for them as they launch independent lives. But it’s a tough world out there, and like us, they have to learn a lot in the school of hard knocks. It’s so hard to watch your child struggle — at any age. We feel powerless to protect them anymore, and it hurts us.
Currently all 5 of our children are in a great place; I am so thankful. But I have also been around long enough to know how life works. We’re almost always heading out of a tough time or enjoying the good times before our next challenge. John 16:33 says it well, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
It all adds up to this: being at the center of this complicated and tremendous sandwich is often one of the most difficult stages of our own lives. Our good hearts and willing hands can be rendered helpless against the perils of the “aging process,” whether we’re talking about men and women developing independence through the teens and 20s or the aging process of the 70s, 80s, 90s and sometimes beyond.
Do you ever feel like the middle slice of meat — definitely fried to a crisp — expected to hold together a whole tremendous Dagwood Sandwich? I know I do.
Sometimes from the center of my family sandwich, I feel incredibly overwhelmed and consumed. It seems I can’t really name the really “big” stressors in my life, but I am drowning in them collectively. My mind is cluttered. I have little time to take care of myself. I’m scattered, trying to manage my thoughts, feelings, and plans for myself and my family. I just can’t seem to do all that I feel I should accomplish for others or in my own life.
We eat out more, because I’m not managing the house or meals all that well. Exercise gets squeezed out, and the added pounds from both add stress. I miss events in my friend’s lives, and cringe when I hear myself apologize saying, “It’s been such a busy week.” Rob and I plan short little getaways to escape and hang on tight to our marriage as a priority.
Time passes and I realize with our travel and busy schedules, I’ve been to church once this month and woefully neglected my quiet times. I’m sporadic in both reading the Bible and prayer — both of which I know can be the very joy and fabric of my soul. My mind — filled with my own life plus the duties of being the all-important center in the family sandwich — is rarely still or quiet enough to listen for the Shepherd’s voice. I am conforming to the world and believing only in the circumstances around me, and what I must do to help those I love.
Webster’s definition of an idol is “the excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” In today’s language an idol is anything that replaces the one, true God. Looks like my well-meaning daughter and mother roles have developed into an idolatry problem. Another commandment in Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Anything that consistently takes me away from my relationship with God is idolatry. I will be able to keep BOTH commandments I’ve mentioned, when I’m putting first things (God) first. Matthew 6:33 says “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
I take a deep breath… exhale. I must guard and protect my intimate times with God above all else. Period. This is the best thing I can do for myself, my parents, my children, my marriage, my work, my life. Trust God and His plan. He has never failed me or led me astray. I have never been sorry I did things His way, even when the world didn’t understand.
One more thing comes to mind — what am I seeking in all my concern and efforts for my parents and children? What caused me to drift away from God? In a nutshell, don’t we want control of our lives? I used to be able to tend the little red wagon holding all my children without major disturbances. My parents were thriving and still available to advise me. I was “in control,” and had resources — but what about now? Everything seems out of MY control — even that which is going well! (Is this realization possibly called wisdom?)
There’s nothing wrong with doing all I can to give comfort and help to my family — and others for that matter. This falls under the Greatest commandment. We help in many practical ways, both our parents and adult children. Decisions must be made and actions taken — and at times, we are the ones called upon to make them. But motivations are always worth checking. Do I feel it is all up to me? Am I trusting that God loves all my family more than I ever dreamed of? Am I remembering that this life on earth is just a blip on God’s eternal timeline? Is God remaining #1?
And what about the anguish and guilt I feel around the way things are and all I can’t do? What of my need to influence my children’s choices or judge my parent’s decisions in the turmoil of these senior years? What about when I risk relationships with my siblings, because I am well-intentioned and believe my way is best for my parents? What about when I preach instead of simply listening, loving and accepting. Can I really trust God’s plan for life and death? Can I live my life His way, and be thankful in all things? Even in this messy sandwich stage?
Well, I would design old age differently, if I were god. I wouldn’t allow illness, dementia, deterioration or degeneration (wrinkles and gray hair might be okay, but I would have everyone view them as badges of honor). I would want old age to be, well, golden. I would gladly give up some of my comfort for my parents to live out their lives on a wonderful, high note.
I wouldn’t let anyone treat my children unfairly or without kindness — at any age. I would want everyone to know and love them as I do. I want them to inherit, without pain, all that I have learned through the experiences of my life, so that they would never suffer. Wouldn’t my way make for a happier, if possibly more vanilla life? It feels like it at times — but it sounds ridiculous even to me when my way is spelled out.
It is Good Friday. “And on the night He was betrayed, He broke bread and lifted it up, and gave thanks.” (1 Corinthians 11: 23-24) If Jesus can give thanks in that, knowing His crucifixion followed, can I not trust Him and give thanks in all that’s on my overflowing, sandwich-adorned plate? Or will I believe it’s all up to me, and squeeze him out — just for this season.
It all circles back to God… Ruthless trust in the One who loves me and all my family most. And putting Him first: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
Priorities. Trust. Love. God’s got my whole Dagwood sandwich in His hands. I’m glad He’s in control, and I’m just a piece of beloved, fried pastrami in the middle.
Note: This may sound like nothing concrete and easier said than done… but, considering yesterday’s post when I was feeling pretty low in my prayer life — Abba is faithful and will show the way through prayer. Please read it, if you have a chance. 😉