This past weekend, I rode the roller coaster of emotions that comes with being a member of the “sandwich generation.”

My head is still spinning.

We’re called the sandwich generation because so many of us are wedged between the dual responsibilities of raising a child and caring for aging parents.

Juggling the care of children and parents presents a constant mix of intense emotions and challenges – some joyful, some painful.

Never was that more clear than Saturday, when I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s mother and the confirmation of my second child. Life and death. Grief and celebration.

I think I cried the entire day; my tear glands need a refill.

Taking place in the same church within just a few hours of each other, those disparate events illustrated perfectly the balancing act so many of us must manage today.

According to the Pew Research Center, about one of every eight Americans aged 40 to 60 is trying to care for parents who might be ill, disabled or in need of financial support, and children who require financial, physical and emotional support.

Many of those sandwiched between these two generations find themselves stretched to the breaking point. Besides dealing with the demands of parents and children, they still have to handle their own issues, such as marriage, jobs, health and paying the daily bills.

My friends and I talk regularly about our new stage of life: the aging of our parents. While just a few years ago we talked about potty training and time-outs, we now spend more time discussing hip surgeries and heart bypasses.

And it scares us.

Each generation faces its own set of challenges. This is ours. We’re not the first to confront them, they’re just hitting us in new and different ways. With advances in health care, our parents are living longer and facing intense medical challenges as they age. Many of us waited longer to get married and have children. And there forms the perfect storm.

In most cases, we are also older than our parents were when they reached this intersection of life. We were out of the house before their parents needed help. They also usually lived closer to relatives who could help with the care of both camps.

At the same time, costs for everything have skyrocketed. Thinking about the prospect of bankrolling college and long-term care simultaneously is terrifying. Not to mention paying for our own retirement.

Despite the challenges, I don’t think any of us who have reached middle age can imagine life without our parents and our children. People who have lost one or both parents would give anything to have them back, money and inconveniences be damned.

As my friend talked about losing her mother and missing the daily phone calls they shared, I cried. As I watched my 14-year-old daughter stand before the bishop to receive her confirmation blessing, I cried again.

It’s not the last time I will cry as a member of the sandwich generation. The mingling of emotions – happiness and sadness – is exhilarating and exhausting. But like most other sandwichers, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Anne McGraw Reeves writes for The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.


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