The Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich Generation

this, too, will be for the best

Ever increasing longevity results in four and sometimes five generations of existing family members. The time of midlife may now extend from 45 to 85. The “sandwich generation”, comprised of those who are caring for both children and elderly parents at the same time, can now extend throughout two or even three generations. Couples and individuals at age 40, 60 or 80 may find themselves caring for at least two other generations at the same time, and often under the same roof. The multigenerational developmental tasks of this life cycle stage become ever more complicated and intertwined. They include:

  • Becoming a couple again as children leave home

  • Developing adult relationships with adult children

  • Resolving issues with one’s parents

  • Adapting to the death of one’s parents

The needs for relationship redefinition abound.

Loss and death may occur within multiple family life cycle stages simultaneously. Grandparents may be helping to raise children, parent adolescents, launch their own children and care for more senior great-grandparents while attending to their own physical, emotional and spiritual needs, all at the same. Marriages at this stage are both the happiest and the most likely to end in divorce. Caregiver status, physically, emotionally and financially is in a state of flux and ambiguity. Cross-generational developmental needs are often conflictual and may become mutually exclusive and irreconcilable. What exactly is an “adult child” and how does that individual prioritize his/her self-definition. “Who’s on first?” becomes a continuing refrain.

External societal definitions and role demands add to the problems of transition stress. Work and play differ markedly for a family Ronald B Cohen, MD of discusses how families can deal with taking care of more than 1 generation (such as their children and aging parents).with “old-old” widowed great-grandparents, recently retired grandparents, and early to mid-career young adult children with toddlers and newborns, compared to a family with chronically ill grandparents no longer able to care for themselves fully and midlife couples simultaneously launching adolescents and negotiating a divorce.

Family Coaching at this intersection of multiple life cycle stages can help all family members achieve an enhanced quality of life by:

  • Reducing interpersonal distress

  • Resolving conflicted interactions

  • Improving communication

  • Strengthening relationships

  • Reducing chronic stress and anxiety

  • Creating a nurturing atmosphere in which to promote active problem solving, healing and emotional well-being

A resilience-based approach affirms the ever-present opportunities for emotional growth and reinvestment. As always, unresolved conflicts from prior life cycle stages impede the ability to complete the tasks of the current stage. In addition, the more generations to be considered the greater the opportunities for persistent residual emotional distress, 10 possibilities within a five generation family, and that’s just on the vertical axis. Add in intragenerational relationship trauma and attachment injuries, and the possibilities are endless.

Working together, the family can learn to communicate on a more intimate level, engage in more satisfying interactions and develop new problem solving skills so that all members can support and appreciate the unique contributions of every generation.

Please share your families’ multigenerational experiences in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here . If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons in the second to the right hand column at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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