“This is an interesting time” my cousin said as we both contemplated our current states in life. We are both over the ½ century mark and we are both a part of the sandwich generation. His children are adults, who continue to need emotional, intellectual and occasional financial support. My children will not leave our nest for at least another seven years. Our conversation did not revolve around our children, it revolved around our personal feelings related to the changing demographics of our family.
The pillars of our family are deceased or approaching their 80s. Our family pillars counseled us, admonished us and most of all loved us. They gave us stability as we grew, as we married, and as we raised our children. We felt safe and secure knowing that, even as adults, we could go to them for advice and good counsel. They provided a framework for our extended family which shaped who we were to become.
My cousin and I admitted that our safety nets were no longer available. Now, the surviving elders of our family look to us for emotional support, safety and security. As we talked, we concluded that the inherent safety net was not just the individuals we loved. The inherent safety net was comprised of the actions they modeled; the lessons they taught; and the foundation they laid. We learned to value relationships and family. We learned to work hard and to respect the community. We learned to appreciate our differences and similarities.
Changing demographics of family and acquaintances may cause anxiety and fear for members of the sandwich generation. We must juggle the feelings of loss while taking on new roles and responsibilities within the broader structure of our families. Who has the responsibility of bringing the family together so that younger members will know each other? Who is responsible for encouraging the younger members to continue the traditions? Who will teach the younger children our history? Are we responsible for the well being of our extended family or should we focus only on our immediate family?
We also discussed the challenge of maintaining family contact. My father, who is now deceased, called family members around the country on a regular basis. He also maintained contact with family friends. He was a conduit for information about their well being. Who will fill this role?
Who fills the pillar roles in your changing family?