The Sandwich Generation’s challenges

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

The Baby Boomer generation refers to that large group of people who were born immediately following World War II up until the mid-1960s. Having been born in 1950, I am a part of the leading edge of the Baby Boomer generation.

As young soldiers returned from the battlefields of World War II and Korea, they settled into communities and started families and careers.

The parents of the Baby Boomers will always be known as the “Greatest Generation.” They certainly deserve that title. The healing that occurred in America following those years of violence and war can be directly attributed to the ability of our Greatest Generation to move forward from the horrors of war and to build the infrastructure, businesses and families that have made America great.

The dividing line between generations is fairly wide and fuzzy. It is usually agreed that a generation lasts for approximately 20 years. Children born from about 1965 to 1985 are usually referred to as Generation X. Children born from 1985 through 2005 are considered part of the Millennial Generation.

Some researchers like to toss about the term Generation Y. It’s generally understood that Gen-Y people can fit into either Gen-X or Millennial, but they just don’t fit in completely with either of those two.

Currently, there is no generational title for people born after 2005. The name for our latest generation will be created by some social scientists in the next few years.

But, there is another generation that cannot be ignored. It is a generation that certainly can overlap any of the generations described above. This generation is not defined by dates of birth, periods of war or peace, or the ending of a millennial period.

It is simply known as the Sandwich Generation.

Like any good sandwich, there is a top that holds all the good stuff in place. There is also a bottom that needs to be held, that strengthens the good stuff in the middle. Then there is the middle of the sandwich — the meat, the cheese, the lettuce, pickles and condiments that make the entire sandwich complete and tasty.

It is generally agreed by social scientists that the people in the middle of the sandwich generation are acting as care providers for their own children, while also often providing care to their own parents. A few researchers have tried tossing around the phrase “The Club Sandwich Generation.”

This term is used to describe the reality that many people are providing multi-generational care. Many of us have family members or friends who are providing direct care to their grandchildren or grandparents.

As the overall age of our population expands, so does the need to provide care to the youngest and oldest of our citizens. We’re blessed to have organizations in our community to help provide that care, but often the provision of direct care first falls directly on the shoulders of the middle of the Sandwich Generation.

An online article by AARP recommended things we could do to be prepared to meet the demands of being in the middle of the Sandwich Generation.

First – We need to protect our own identity. Even while providing care to our parents and our children and we must not lose that special identity that makes us who we are. Always carve out some time for yourself.

Second – Be prepared to change priorities. Circumstances will change constantly. Demands on our time will change constantly. Be willing to juggle priorities without feelings of guilt.

Third – Get organized. As demands on our time increase, we need to be better organized. We cannot afford to waste even a few minutes when those few minutes might be all the extra time we have in a full day.

Fourth – Accept help. There are organizations, friends and neighbors who would be very willing to assist. Contact the local Community Action Program if you need guidance. They can help you find and line-up assistance for both senior citizens and children.

Sadly, we are losing the top half of our sandwich. Just within the past several months, we have had many funerals for friends we always relied on for guidance and direction — Dottie, Billie, Mary Lou, Fred, Doris, Vaugh, Richard, Jama, Dot and many others who have passed away.

We cannot say that they will never be replaced. In fact, many of us will be the ones who take their place on the top of the sandwich. Taking the place of a parent or grandparent as the leader of a family is difficult and not what we would choose to do, but in these circumstances … we don’t get a choice.

We move up.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and a resident of more than 40 years.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist