The Sandwich Generation: A Multi-Layered Life
Laurie J. Schmitt considers how Mary can be an example and accompaniment to women in the sandwich generation.
At the beginning of the month, I jotted down my typical to-do list, balancing out family and work-related responsibilities, as well as setting some just-out-of-reach writing goals for myself. I was on track, and eager to move forward, but within a few hours, my list was lost in the scramble to tend to my daughter and my mother. Each was hospitalized, requiring emergency care, within hours of the other.
My mother, in her nineties, was hospitalized with serious health concerns, within a week was moved into transitional care, and after another week, moved into assisted living. As for my daughter, her second baby decided to come six weeks premature, so she spent ten days in intensive care; the new baby, after he was born, spent more than two weeks in NICU until he was healthy enough to come home.
During the weeks that I stayed with my daughter’s 11-month-old baby, my sister—bless her heart and hands—managed all of the medical paperwork and practical needs for our mom. I was away for almost one month, phoning my mom nearly every day, and staying in touch with my daughter and sister several times each day.
And at home? My household was managed by one of my teenage sons, who was delegated kitchen duty. Our home business wobbled a little bit, but kept moving forward. I straddled the gap as best I could, sneaking home for a few hours to check the mail and write out accounts payable, until everyone in my daughter’s family—including our little grandson—was happily home from the hospital.
Welcome to the sandwich generation—the one that holds the whole family together.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of the sandwich generation is “a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children.” My life of late—if it could be compared to a sandwich—seems to resemble more of a triple decker, or maybe a club sandwich loaded with lots of layers including grandbabies, teenagers and young-adult sons, a hardworking husband, and my aging mother, along with the responsibilities that come with a busy home business. Today, so many women are on call for so many others. How do we hold the layers of the family sandwich together?
How are we to keep a balance between the people in our lives and our own personal needs? And what about the necessary things, like routine housekeeping. And the expected things that come with seasonal holidays and special family days which require us not only to be organized but to open our doors and be hospitable. There are lots of common sense suggestions offered through organizational books and websites, such as tightening up your routine and becoming more efficient: Run your errands in one trip; delegate projects and eliminate extras; make use of small snippets of time by wiping out five and ten minute tasks, such as making phone calls while your kid is in the dentist’s chair.
All of this sounds good, very practical, but can create a sense of burnout, leaving the synapses in the brain firing with machine-gun syncopation. Doubling up doesn’t always do the trick. And after you’ve tossed out everything that you possibly can, what do you keep? Keep the faith. Keep family and friends, and continue to cultivate, to nurture and nourish, your feminine heart.
St. John Paul II, in his speeches and writings, thanked women for using their gifts in caring for others. Women, by their words and deeds, by the gift of their presence alone, support all of humanity. He encourages women to look to Mary and “find in her the secret of living their femininity with dignity and of achieving their own true advancement” (Redemptoris Mater). He continues, saying:
In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement. (Redemptoris Mater)
In Mary we see the feminine soul at its finest. Loving her Son and being present in His suffering, caring for the young church, and visiting the world through her approved apparitions. She is here for us, and we walk with her, not in her shadow, but in her light, because she walks with us.
Copyright 2022 Laurie J. Schmitt
About Laurie J. Schmitt
Laurie J. Schmitt, a veteran homeschooling mother of nine, is the author of Catholic historical fiction books for children, including Lepanto’s Lady (Our Lady of Victory and the Battle of Lepanto), Champions of the Rosary (Our Lady of Good Help and the Peshtigo Fire) and Giorgio’s Miracle (Eucharistic Miracle of Turin). Picture books coming soon. Follow her at LaurieSchmitt.com and on Instagram @LaurieSchmittbooks.