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How in the World Did I End Up in the Sandwich Generation?

Just yesterday, I was a Gen-X slacker. Now I'm a mom with kids and aging parents.

by Jennifer Owens | July 20, 2021
<p>The author Jennifer Owens and her family.</p>

Half the sandwich: Jennifer and her family of four: Owen, Gwendolyn and Brett.

 The Squeeze

  • Nearly half of us in midlife have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child and the pressure from both is growing.
  • Still, a lifetime of never-ending hustle has prepared GenX for this moment. Here’s why.

How does one know when she’s in the Sandwich Generation? After all, it’s not necessarily defined by when you were born, nor where you grew up. Instead, it’s defined by how you feel when your phone rings at certain times of the day: the middle of the afternoon and it’s your son? The middle of the night and it’s your mom?

It’s that moment when you pause and take a deep breath before you pick up: that’s life in the Sandwich — and with two teens, two moms, two cats and one spouse, I’m deep into it.

Here’s how researchers view us: Nearly half of us in our 40s and 50s (47 percent) have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child — and the pressures from both ends are only increasing.

As parents, we know that the costs of everything, from preschool to afterschool to college, continues to climb. Meanwhile, the economy is making it harder and harder for our grown kids to launch into adulthood, especially when they’re saddled with more student debt than even we had coming out of college.

And then there are our parents, Boomers and older, who not only out-number us GenXers but who are more determined than ever to live as independently as possible — for as long as they can. If you’re like me and fled your small hometown for the big city as soon as you could, you are also dealing with this from hundreds of miles away.

Mix in stepparents, stepsiblings and step-kids, and I’m sure there are days you feel like Stretch Armstrong. Little did we know what Stretch was trying to tell us about being pulled in too many directions at once.

And yet, we do the work. We make to-do lists, we make calls, we show up for doctor’s appointments and arrange for care where it’s needed. If there’s anything that defines the Sandwich Generation the most to me, it’s that we’re always working hard to figure out not only what needs to be done but how to do it, whether waiting on hold for an answer, submitting scanned documents yet again, or untangling my mom’s many Facebook accounts. (Yes, she’s accidentally created a second account twice — that’s four accounts!)

If there’s anything that defines the Sandwich Generation the most to me, it’s that we’re always working hard to figure out not only what needs to be done but how to do it.

As a tried-and-true GenXer, who grew up not only with a latchkey, but with a younger brother to care for; who wished to be a super cool Slacker, but ended up finding a job instead; and who then suffered the slings and arrows of an economy based on dot-com bubbles and mortgage-backed securities — this life stage isn’t too scary. Nor is it shocking. Yes, any phone call can trigger a slew of new stressful decisions that must be researched and made seemingly in an instant. And yes, I dream of the day that we won’t have to pay some huge kid-related bill. (Pre-k tuition rivaled that of college.)

Still, a lifetime of never-ending hustle has prepared us for this moment. Today if there’s anything the Sandwich Generation knows well, it’s how to bob and weave — or at least how to craft a killer to-do list.

Today that list likely includes tasks to help your parents or stepparents, coordinating with your siblings to get the job done and the bills paid. It can mean filling out a zillion documents for school. (Does it seem like they add more forms every year?) It can include a shopping list for the three generations living under one roof together, along with their pets.

And it can include figuring out how to pay for everything, not only for now but for the future, especially yours, if only to make it easier on our kids when it’s their turn in the middle.

Because what we want for ourselves, what we’ve always wanted for our parents, stepparents, kids, step-kids and grandkids is what our new FirstlySM platform is all about— creating a sense of security and happiness through financial wellness.

Simple to say, but a lifetime to master, I know.

But I also know that we can make it happen. Why? Because we always make it happen: 

Firstly, Lastly, Always.

Got a question or a story to share?

Contact us at editors@firstly.com

About the Author

Before joining Firstly, Jennifer served as Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy of HealthyWomen.org and launched Spring. St, the place for smart women. She served as editorial director of Working Mother Media and founded the Working Mother Research Institute, home to the Working Mother 100 Best Companies. In 2013, she launched National Flex Day, an annual spotlight on the benefits of flexible work policies for employees. 

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