When I first heard the term 'The Sandwich Generation' I thought yummy! coleslaw and bacon? or cheese and ham? But after another moments' thought I decided it was a really condescending term to use to describe a stressful way of living for many, many families. The situation may be more prevalent with our increasing longevity, but people, often women, have been working to keep children and parents, and very often nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts adequately cared for for generations.
What is difficult to understand is the sheer volume of busyness involved in keeping up with all the demands and duties. As a mother I thought my girls were high maintenance as toddlers! Then they got to be teenagers and I thought, well this is fun, but I was permanently wrecked with all their school and activities and friends' socialising. They are in their 20s now and although they are away it shows no sign of slowing down...and they are independent, resourceful young women.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the parents have aged, slowed down and need increasing attention and assistance. There are days I have to decide whose need is greater and let one family member down in preference to another.
And besides all that there is the small matter of part-time work and self-employment to try and keep a roof over my head and stay out of debt.
On any given day I can be listening to one daughter on the phone, having another rock up unexpectedly and wonder why there's no bread in the freezer (another sister finished it at the weekend), help folks with the garden heavy work, assist another daughter with getting the washing machine in her new flat working and then on the end of the phone via multimedia messages (excellent invention) help her find the whereabouts of the water valve when the kitchen subsequently floods, bump into someone else in town and take their shopping home for them so they can have a decent walk (dry days are increasingly rare!), and eventually return home having forgotten to do all my own errands.
I'm lucky as I've only had part-time occupation for years so I have the time for other people, and still time to be ill myself. What about others? Those with bedridden parents or disabled family members? What about those who are financing family members' care and are so tightly strung financially they can't see the wood for the trees? What about those who become so isolated in their busyness of minding others that they become depressed and too worn out to function efficiently. I know several families where the wife works full-time, with children still in high-dependency mode, and parents and parents-in-law who need constant care. What about them?
This may be the reality for many people but it is not easy, usually thankless (who thanks anyone for 'doing their duty'?) and as the only realistic end can be the death of someone, how can they look forward to that without all sorts of guilt and grief?
Like I say, I have it easy compared to many and still my resources are not such that I can offer too much help to others without making myself more ill. Eldest's partner copes admirably with her illness and disabilities, the other girls come and go with just the usual hiccups, my parents are still pretty independent and I have siblings among which to divide the responsibility.
It's a tough situation.
And then some idiot says 'you only work part time? and your children all grown? sure what do you do with yourself?'
Give me a moment to myself and I'll figure an answer to that...