Grandparents and the Sandwich Club

“…give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”
(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

According to professionals in the field, millions of adults between 40 and 59 years of age in America are part of the “Sandwich Generation”. These are mostly working adults with aging parents and children still in the home. Another growing segment of the Sandwich Generation I call the Sandwich Club (also referred to as Club Sandwich). I define Sandwich Club members as those mostly in their 50’s and 60’s juggling the care of elderly parents and some level of support to adult children and grandchildren.

My siblings and I, along with our spouses (all grandparents) are part of the Sandwich Club – those of us coping with parents with diminishing capacities and adult children producing a growing quiver of grandchildren. The demands can range from something relatively easy to extremely difficult and heartbreaking. Many invest significant time and energy helping aging parents with dementia and/or significant physical limitations. At the same time, they may be dealing with strained or changing relationships with adult children and/or grandchildren.

Because Sandwich Club members are a unique group of mostly grandparents, they are frequently overwhelmed by emotional and physical stress. Think about it… did you ever imagined this time of life would be anything other than some of your best years? Yet, here we are with a new understanding of what that old saying feels like which says, ‘When it rains, it often pours!’ For my family, much of the time it feels like a mostly stormy downpour.

I admit I was not mentally prepared for the physical and emotional associated with my membership in the Sandwich Club. On the one hand, there are major decisions and actions we are forced to make about how to provide the most beneficial care for parents who seem almost like strangers much of the time, and often angry that their independence is being taken away. Parenting toddlers, and even teenagers, seems – if my memory is still clear — easier than this unexpected flip-flop of family roles.

On the other hand, Sandwich Club grandparents often have adult children struggling with their marriages, jobs or faith who either turn to them for help, or completely reject any offer of help from their parents. And, of course, there are the grandchildren. If there’s trouble at home, they may also be wrestling with questions of faith, identity or purpose. As is often the case, they may look to grandpa or grandma for help. I think that is a good thing, because it usually means grandma and grandpa are a safe to talk about the hard things.

In my own ‘sandwich’ reality, I struggle regularly with fatigue and depression to some degree, I think – something new to me. As part of an ever-growing group of sandwich generation grandparents, ought this not to be a prime area for the Church to step to the plate and offer support, encouragement and tools for coping? How sad that few churches are doing it, perhaps because they are not aware of the need. Maybe we can change that.

In my own journey mining for understanding, God has helped me discover a few gold nuggets that have been a big help. Here are four nuggets I hope will help you as well…

  1. REACH OUT: I need wise counselors to help me keep things in focus. I need to be reminded that I not the only one experiencing hardship. I urge you to reach out to a mature brother/sister in Christ who will understand what you’re experiencing. I discovered there are lots of people in similar circumstances, or have already traveled that road ready to help. (I am blessed to have amazing siblings who all help share the load. If you do not have that support network, find someone who can fill that role.)
  2. REST: I need to take care of myself and my spouse. I learned to value of time away from the demands of family for me and my spouse. This can be something as simple as taking a drive together, having a date night at the movies, or getting away for a few days at a favorite vacation spot. If I don’t do this, I will not be an effective caregiver.
  3. REFLECT: This is not the time for me to neglect the Word and prayer, even when I don’t feel like doing it. I know it’s easy to say, and not always easy to faithfully practice. But, I’ve learned that no matter how painful and exhausting a situation may be, I dare not let the Enemy distract me from my first love – the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the time to reflect on His promises like, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty… He is my refuge and my fortress…” (Psalm 91:1-2). “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
  4. REMEMBER: Remember, He is God, not me (in case you forgot). I don’t have all the answers, but He does. I need to remember that He will never leave me or forsake me. I must remember His grace is sufficient… not my strength or knowledge. The command to remember runs throughout Scripture because the Enemy knows that, other than affluence, there are no more fertile soils for forgetting than hardship and weariness. Remember Jesus’ gracious words, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28). He offers rest (shalom) for my soul, but only if I come to Him.

These four nuggets are a magic potion to make all the problems go away, but they are balm to keep us from losing heart and help us discover the richness and depth of God’s grace and peace. May His grace and peace fill you and give you rest.

I’d love to hear how God has helped you handle the emotional and physical exhaustion that often comes with a Sandwich Club membership.

3 replies
  1. Bev & Olin Phillips
    Bev & Olin Phillips says:

    Thank you for this very insightful posting, Cavin! Yes, you have a lot of company in the Sandwich Club, including us. All of your recommendations are ones we have also found to be of substantial help. I think we are continuing to learn more about giving the often-overwhelming caregiving burdens to Jesus, not carrying around them mentally & emotionally. Then we are trying to keep our focus only on “today’s assignment” for us from Him, just doing one thing at a time and leaving the rest in His sovereign hands until another day in the future when He may make that the “assignment for today.” This requires some mental discipline and much practice! But one day at a time living is a vital antidote for exhaustion. One last important component is to regularly have some fun and laugh!! Merry hearts are good medicine for what ails us. 🙂

    • Cavin Harper
      Cavin Harper says:

      Thanks, Bev and Olin. Some very good and wise counsel… focus on one thing-today’s assignment, and find reasons to laugh and have fun. Good stuff!

  2. Dawn Onufrock
    Dawn Onufrock says:

    Thanks dear brother. Well written and I say a hearty and sometimes exhausted “Amen!”. Thankful to have you be a partner in this. Looking to Jesus. Trusting in God’s sovereign control.


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