THE NEW SANDWICH
In the days before World War II there was no such thing as the Sandwich Generation. The term came into general use in the last decade symbolizing the fact that the middle aged generation had to both take care in raising the children as well as caring for their parents. In the time before World War II many women had not entered the work force and the male wage earner provided, not always adequately, the funds for shelter, food and clothing. Families shared a single roof with grandparents providing help in raising the family; help on the farm or in the store, and often some financial assistance. There was no Social Security so families scraped together to survive. Children learned to cope within a multigenerational set up. This often proved of great value as family traditions were handed down by word of mouth rather than videos, pictures or tapes. All three sets of families learned to give and take, to share in the work load and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Recreation, when time allowed, was often within the four walls of the home rather than on the street, the movie theatre or gaming parlors. There were downsides to this life style of course, but in general people coped and took care of their own.
With the advent of World War II women had to enter the work force for several reasons: to replace the men who went off to war; financial reasons; and the growing feeling/need for a sense of independence. Many sociologists have used this time as the turning point in families becoming “atomic” families. This means families splintering off into smaller groups, moving away from the central core and losing contact with each other. At the end of the War women stayed in the work force and children learned to survive at home without parental guidance. With the advent of Social Security and other forms of savings (pensions, union funds,) the older generation, now called Senior Citizens, also splintered off. New “villages” were formed called Active Retirement Communities. There the Seniors could live with all types of recreational activities, gates for security, and often meals in comfort. These communities most often sprung up in the Sunshine States (Florida, Arizona, Nevada, California) far from their families. The summer vacation for the children and grandchildren often became a trip to visit the Seniors.
The problems that this new trend generated have been well written about in movies as well as TV. This trend has also produced a broad array of products to bring all these generations together. The computer led to e-mail, video conferencing; a broad range of tools that the Seniors could use to stay safe, contact a parent, or (another new term) contact the Caregiver.
A whole new industry has been developed to deal with this social phenomenon and no one is truly sure whether it has been progress. Unsupervised children led to the development of child care centers. For those parents unable to pay for this service the street, the library, or simply gangs became the venue for these children.
That a perfect solution to these issues has not been found is evident in the Expos and Conventions I have attended. A fair share of them provide “resources” for this new sandwich generation to assist in both the care of their parents as well as tools to cope with the children now left unsupervised. How well are you coping? Have you bought all these new tools (video monitoring from your computer as one example) yet? What have you done when your new adult comes home with partner and child with no funds to take care of themselves? Do we wish for a return to the old ways?
While it is true that I am privileged to attend a University with the latest in Tech gadgets which my generation takes for granted. I must keep in mind how foreign these tools are to many seniors, and make every attempt to integrate the senior population with my generation’s technology. Doing this will not only benefit the seniors, but it will keep me from taking for granted how we do things today, vs. how it used to be done.
Jaclyn Kraft, Reporter (College Intern) for Senior Scope under direction of John Lustig, Senior Reporter