Sandwich Generation? Yeah, Me Too.

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I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think I overthink things. Whether it’s pondering how to fold a fitted sheet properly or how to support my 8-year-old through rough school days, I weigh every option before making my move. My lengthy decision-making skills went into overdrive when my husband and I talked about starting our family. I analyzed all the outcomes — including the fact I’d be an older mom. But somehow, I missed the part where my parents aged, too.

I’m a member of what’s called the “sandwich generation.” This term was created to describe caregivers caught in the middle of two generations, but I’d never even heard of the phrase until I realized it described me. I stumbled into this space “accidentally on purpose” because I took it slowly starting our family. My hubby and I had long talks about not rushing into babies and bedtimes because we wanted to make sure we felt moved to be parents.

I’m not sure if it was our calling that finally called or my ovaries telling me to hurry it up, but when we started trying to get pregnant, we were clearly going to be the older parents. We’d be the ones on the playground hoping our knees held out while we played tag. As I overanalyzed what it would be like to be a parent later in life, I didn’t think about what it would be like for my parents to be first-time grandparents later in their lives. They were ageless in my mind. It’s only recently they’ve shown me they get older with the rest of us.

Driving my mom to the doctor’s office to wait for my dad, I remind her I’ll pick them both up after the tests are done. She nods and thanks me for the ride. After I drop her off, I’ll pick up my son from school and then get dinner for us, too. Watching my mom from the driver's seat, I think of the countless times she drove me to doctor's visits as a kid — and the irony is not lost on me.

"As an adult, I watched my parents become caregivers to my grandparents. They took phone calls in the middle of the night and traveled at a moment’s notice."

As an adult, I watched my parents become caregivers to my grandparents. They took phone calls in the middle of the night and traveled at a moment’s notice. I saw them worry and fret about their responsibilities, hoping they were doing enough. This gave me a glimpse into my future. I knew someday I’d be caring for them in the same way; I just didn’t think it would be while my son was in grade school.

While I enjoy the occasional sandwich, I’m sure I wasn’t prepared to be part of the 47% of adults that fit this category. My parents are still self-sufficient, but more and more, there are calls asking for last-minute rides or dropped-off dinners. I’m absolutely happy to help out because they were always there for me. I’m relieved I can be there for them, so why does my overthinking brain wonder what will happen when their needs increase along with my son’s? Will caring for the people I love be fresh and easy? Or will I end up a squashed sandwich feeling like no one gets my best?

Picking up the food I ordered, my kiddo helps me carry it all into the house. My dad looks a little tired after his day but meets us at the door anyway.

“Hello! How was your day?” He asks my kid.

“Good,” my son says with a smile.

Watching my little guy open food containers, I remember how I worried about everything before I became a parent. Then, while holding my infant in the hospital, it was clear that no amount of planning could prepare me for momming. Being in the trenches inspired me to know what I needed. I couldn’t have predicted how to soothe my baby until we were locked in that moment. I didn’t know when to ask for help until I needed it. Maybe the same applies here.

I don’t know how my two roles will ebb and flow or what my sandwich will look like in the future. But I do know I plan on being there for those I love every step of the way — and that’s not one I have to overthink.

Tags: Family Connection, Parents, relationships, Motherhood, parenting

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Tonilyn Hornung

Tonilyn is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, young son, many furry friends, and never enough closet space. See Full Bio

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