Apparently Generation X is the 'sandwich generation' ...

It’s the juggling act most of us will encounter. The Sandwich Generation.

‘Did you hear?’ said Dot at her church coffee morning, ‘The electric chair arrives on Thursday! It’s exactly what Ron needs. He hasn’t been the same since he had his hip done.’

Dot and Ron are my friend Caroline’s parents. In their mid-eighties, they’re determined to stay in their own home. The ‘electric chair’ is what Dot calls the seat that slides up and down alongside their stairs. Sure, Ron isn’t comfortable with the term, ‘electric chair,’ but Dot refuses to be corrected, and her excitement is infectious, her independence, admirable. Nothing her kids can do or say will convince her to move to somewhere with fewer stairs and more help.

Then there are my parents in law, both 81. They’re in the process of moving into a retirement village. It’s something of a wrench as they’ve been very happy in the unit they’ve lived in for the past 10 years, but they worry when the lift breaks down, and get anxious about what happens if one of them gets sick.

So the decision was made, by them, and the move is on. They’ve downsized twice before, so it’s not like they’re leaving a 50 year home, but there’s sadness in their generosity as they distribute precious crystal bowls, beloved books and well-worn kitchen appliances because they won’t have the space in their new home. Pop knows he he’ll have no need for a cordless drill. The village has someone to help hang pictures and unblock drains. Nan won’t be hosting Christmas dinner again and having their grandchildren to sleepover is probably a thing of the past. (Of course, they might be delighted at this. Am I being arrogant in assuming it was as fantastic for them as it was for us?)

My friend Laura’s family is Italian. When her mum can no longer live alone, she’ll move in with her.  It’s not something Laura is looking forward to, but she says, ‘I can’t imagine sending mum to live with strangers.’

‘It’s not like that, I said defensively, thinking not only of my in-laws; also my own grandpa, who spent his last years in a retirement village.


‘Sure,’ said Laura, ‘But Italians are different. Mum never let me put my girls into daycare when they were little. It’s not what we do, and she thought it was ridiculous to pay someone to look after them when their Nonna was around.’

So, Nonna will live with Laura until she dies. That – thanks to modern medicine, might be in  thirty years. No kid is in daycare for that long, I thought, but I said nothing.

On Mamamia, we’ve done countless posts about parenting. Some funny, some sad, some infuriating and some, hopefully, helpful. But it struck me that there’s little written about caring for the old people in our lives.

They say we’re the ‘sandwich generation’ – simultaneously looking after small children and ageing parents because (generally speaking) we had our kids so late and our parents are living longer than their parents did. When I was 10, for example, my grandparents were in their sixties and I remember my grandfather taking us surfing. My son is 10 and the idea of his Pop taking him surfing is as scary as it is ridiculous.

There are more years and less money to pay for them. For many families, the GFC has decimated savings, so the planned ‘relaxed and comfortable’ years are anything but. And longer lives aren’t necessarily synonymous with healthy ones, so expensive medications, hospital stays and searching for quality nursing home places is taking up the heart-space  of people still stressing about babies’ colic.

‘Granny flats,’ (if they still exist) are more likely to accommodate ‘children’ in their twenties than grannies. For many families, ‘Packed To The Rafters’ is no sitcom. It’s real life and it’s not all that funny. Or maybe it is?

What’s your experience with caring for elderly relatives? Did you grow up with grandparents living with you? Were you raised by grandparents? Is your life made better or worse by the old people in it?