If you are a member of the “Sandwich Generation” — caring for aging parents while also tending to children at home — you probably have a great deal of experience navigating between two worlds. In fact, maybe you do it so naturally that it’s not even stressful for you!
But being aware of some of the specific differences between your parents’ generation and your children’s can help you be a more effective bridge. And making them aware of the differences can enrich their relationship as well.
The Class of 2021
If you have children who are graduating from high school this year, consider this about the Class of 2021:
- These kids don’t use email — because it’s too slow.
- They probably never learned to write in cursive.
- Most don’t wear a watch — they look at their cell phones to see what time it is.
- They have always been able to tell who’s calling them because caller ID has always been standard.
- They might be more familiar with the term “Assisted Living” than “nursing home.”
- It’s quite possible they’ve never bought a stamp.
- They have never heard anyone actually “ring it up” on a cash register.
- The Soviet Union has never existed for them, and they have always known only one Germany.
- They are more familiar with what happened at the World Trade Center than what happened at Pearl Harbor.
- They learned “cut and paste” first as a computer command, then as an activity involving scissors.
- They have never had to buy a roll of film or wait for their vacation photos to be developed.
The Class of 1945
By contrast, consider these characteristics of people graduating high school in 1945:
- Most were too young to serve in the war that was coming to an end, but they may have had older siblings who served.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been President most of their lives.
- They grew up during the Great Depression, and they may have had to work to help support their parents and siblings.
- Though gasoline cost only 15¢ a gallon, gas rations were in place, so they could use only three gallons per week.
- Throughout their grade school (that is, grammar school) years, this generation would not be surprised to have their report cards personally delivered by their teachers, who were expected to make house calls.
- Students who dared to misbehave in school could expect the teacher to smack their palms with a ruler. More serious offenses would result in a whipping with a razor strop or a hickory switch. They might get another whipping from their parents when they got home because parents believed in supporting the teacher.
- Throughout most of their academic career they were taught that the atom was the smallest particle. Then in 1945 the atom was split.
- TV had not been invented yet, but radio shows promoted “the theater of the mind.”
So not only were the life experiences of these two generations vastly different — war and poverty for the 1945 graduates, vs. technology and comparative wealth for the 2020 grads — but also the amount of life experience gives your parents a different perspective. Because they have already lived through so much, they have a patience and a long-term view that is simply unavailable to younger people.
Bridging the Gap
Bringing these two generations together might result in unexpected discoveries and a richer appreciation for each other. For example, imagine your children and your parents comparing the events of 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Imagine them discussing how military people returning from war have been honored (or ignored) throughout the generations. Imagine them sharing their memories and hopes about first jobs, or first cars, or favorite teachers.
Or imagine your children making a presentation to their grandmother about the benefits of owning an iPad — verbalizing why “it’s cool,” and learning to understand her potential objections so that they can address them. In fact, inviting the kids to provide ongoing training and tech support for their grandparents could be a way to foster a relationship of mutual respect and learning.
Sharing the Love
If your kids prove adept at training, you might look for opportunities to share their energy and expertise with other seniors! Suggest a Facebook class at your local retirement community or senior center. Your kids could do the teaching, and your parents can serve as examples of what’s possible!
Even if Facebook training or technology training is too involved for your family, you can find ways to bring generations together. Providence Life Services communities are open to ideas and eager for volunteers — people to read to residents, or play Wii with them, or present a slideshow from a recent mission trip.