Living Life in a Sandwich: What it’s Like to Raise Children and Care for Parents All at Once (Part 1)

I didn’t coin the term “The Sandwich Generation”, but I am currently available in the condiment section of your local grocery store. Yep, I am right there in between two Texas Toast sized slices of generations all in the same house. I have four children living at home: high school, middle school, elementary school, and preschool age. My parents (who are in their late 70s) live with us too. This is just an intro to our story, but I hope it makes us all laugh, gives hope to other families like us, and gives others insight into some of the challenges.

We knew as early as 2012 that my beautiful mother was having memory issues. Repeating stories, forgetting details, etc. but we didn’t know how bad she was getting and what exactly was wrong. When we called my parents to tell them that we were having our 4th child (a very big surprise for a post-40s couple), they were thrilled. When she was born and they came to stay with us for two weeks, Mom’s Rapidly Progressing Dementia was on full display….it was new baby excitement and declining health depression in the same small apartment for two weeks. We knew that our family’s world was not just being rocked by a new baby but that soon we would be caring for my mother and father too.

I will not detail much about my work life during this time, other than to say I changed careers and eventually we moved to a new state, then a new house and I started working from home. In the middle of all of it, we moved my parents out of their house in South Carolina to our home in East Tennessee. That move is a story for its own book chapter.

The challenges started before they moved in with us. However, it went from being like standing at the edge of the ocean with the waves hitting your feet and pulling the sand out from under you to being in the middle of the waves fighting a vicious undertow. Only while fighting the undertow, my wife and I have to hold onto our four children and my parents and cook a five-course meal at the same time. (That made me laugh….but it’s the best way I can describe it).

So, what exactly is the Sandwich Generation by definition? It’s raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time. It’s a loss of freedom, strained finances, “spinning plates”, and trying to not only keep your sanity but also keep giving back to the rest of the world at the same time. At least that is our world. In our case, it’s in the same house 24/7 and pretty much 365 days a year.

There are a lot of things I won’t reveal to you for personal and privacy concerns, but I will write about this from time to time for my own welfare and to help others cope and understand. Why did we take on the challenge of caring for my parents in our home? Two simple (yet complicated) reasons: the Bible is clear that children are to honor and care for their parents (See Matthew 15), and it’s an act of love for one of our closest “neighbors” (Matthew 19:19).

It’s been about 20 months since we moved my parents in. There are challenges galore far beyond what we envisioned but it’s our Sandwich and we are living in it. God continues to give us the strength to do it and we hope our example is a long-term blessing to not just my parents, but to other families.

So, I invite you to travel with me for at least a few blog posts, as I share our story. Thanks for reading!

Timothy (Tim) Gunnells started his blog "Desert Spiritual" while living and ministering in the desert in Arizona. He knows the world in which we live is a "dry and weary land where is no water" and souls are thirsting for God (Psalm 63:1).Tim currently lives with his family in East Tennessee. He is available for retreats, leadership development seminars, and church consulting. He enjoys hiking, singing, spending time with his family and friends, and blogging about Christian spirituality, culture, and life in general. He may be reached at timothygunnells@gmail.com.