It’s a pleasure to return to my post at the Post after a year’s sabbatical. Many thanks to my readers for their feedback over the past few months!
As a Baby-Boomer, this year has been an interesting one for me. It’s a year when I turned 50, my Mother turned 75 and my Daughter turned 25. This is a challenging time of life in which many of us feel responsible for family members both older and young than ourselves. While I consider this to be a position of great honor, it does put many of us right, smack dab in the middle. We are the sandwich generation…a state which I lovingly refer to as “smushed in the sandwich”.
In 1986, renowned therapist and researcher, Jay Haley described the developmental stages of families in terms of the changes in attachment and separation between parents and children. From his perspective, our family sandwich might look something like this.
There comes a time when our children separate from us as parents. In healthy families, adult children become independent and develop lives of their own. Not only do we have to let them go, but also, it is a sign of our success as parents to let them go. Then, if we are lucky, they will choose to become our friends. For that to occur, we must consider them as our equals and respect them as adults.
When the nest is empty, we can fully reattach ourselves to our spouses. When the nest empties out, it is a great fortune if both parents still reside in the nest. Unfortunately, not all make it to this point. Some have left before their baby birds, some have left through death, and some leave just as the last baby bird is taking flight. But for those who have remained lovers, best friends and partners over the years, this is a time of great reward, as the privacy and intimacy of being alone as a couple is restored. Many couples report feeling like they did when they were newlyweds. For these couples, it is finally time to play more with each other after many years of non-stop child-rearing.
There come a time when its our turn to parent our parents. Again, if we are fortunate, our parents are still around and we are given the honor of caring for them as they age. This turnabout in roles can take place in one of two ways. Some prefer to wear blinders and then be caught by surprise when called upon to be of assistance to their folks. Or as I recommend, put your parents on your calendar! At this age, ask not what you parents can do for you, but what you can do for your parents.
This is a time to anticipate, be sensitive, and pay attention to our parent’s needs, hopefully as they did for us while we were growing up. If your folks live at a distance, begin scheduling regular visits with them throughout the year. While such occasions as family reunions are wonderful, these alone may not meet the needs of older parents. Be sensitive to the fact that crowds of relatives may be overwhelming to some older people. As your parents move on to old age and retirement, they may need time alone with you to express their feelings and communicate their needs.
It may be time to re-evaluate your career. While you may not be ready to retire, this may be a good time to plan for your future and consider ways to work smarter, not harder. For some, it may be time to rethink careers. Perhaps its time to travel less, work fewer hours, and even become more selective about work/social commitments. Some of us may decide to change from doing the work we have to do, to doing the work we want to do. Or this might be the right time to chase down a life-long dream that we never got to. The important thing for you and your spouse to remember is to support each other’s dreams and life changes. No doubt, there are close links between career satisfaction, mental health, and relationship satisfaction. In my experience, spouses who support each other, tend to grow closer as a couple. While those who discourage change in each other will eventually find themselves talking less and growing apart.
A recent copy of the AARP magazine headlines an article entitled “60 is the new 30”. While this headline attempts to portray Baby Boomers as the new young (or not old) generation, there are certain physical realities which we must respect. Over time, we will become more vulnerable to health issues. We can’t run and we can’t hide from the realities of life, but we can anticipate change and plan ahead. Like maintaining a vintage automobile, it takes work to keep our bodies, our minds and our relationships in good condition...but oh, what a ride!
©Copyright, 2003, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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