Sandwich Generation, Expat-style

Recently I caught up with a couple expat friends, enjoying koffie while sharing the latest on comings and goings.

Spring is in the air, along with blooming trees, blossoming flowers and plants, and the necessary but dreaded pollen.

Students are getting antsy, ready to break free of their daily grind (oh, if they only knew!) of classes, course review/revising and exams. High school seniors in particular chomp at the bit to graduate and enjoy a taste of summer before starting university, career paths or ‘gap year’ in far-flung places.

It’s also that time of year when many expats working for governments, businesses and international organizations learn where the next assignment will take them.

That is, unless bureaucratic uncertainty and waffling economies intervene as they are wont to do, throwing the entire ‘process’ into turmoil and year-round confusion as I wrote late last summer in Uncertainty of Expat Life.

Conversation ranged from who was leaving and when, summer plans for those who were staying, and which children were graduating and the pending impact on the familial unit.

‘Empty nest looming for Anna. Her youngest heads off to uni this year.’

‘No, Roger and Ulrike negotiated a one-year extension so that their middle child can finish high school here.’

‘We’re trying to combine Sarah’s college visits with my mother’s 80th birthday celebration while seeing as many friends and family as we can in X number of days.’

But I also noticed other news creeping in.

‘Well, they want to head back home since Rosalind’s father is so ill, but Roberto hasn’t been able to work out a transfer.’

‘Johanna extended her trip as her mother’s taken a turn for the worse. She isn’t sure when she’ll be back.’

Welcome to the sandwich generation.

It isn’t anything new: people everywhere must deal with competing needs and claims on time and attention (not to mention attendant costs) from their children and other younger family members on the one hand and their parents and older generations on the other.

Add distance into the equation and it becomes more challenging. Put countries, continents, cultures and time zones into the mix and it becomes even more difficult.

I’ve learned this firsthand with Son back in the US, about to finish his first year of college. Parenting from afar is something that many have to wrestle with, as I continually remind myself.

Preparing them to leave the nest is what we do if our children are to go out and find their way in the world. I remember my own college years vividly, and I always valued my parents’ emotional support far more than their financial support (although the latter was certainly appreciated).

So no guilt trips or emotional blackmail here. Just love and support, answers to questions posed, the occasional cautionary tale and perhaps a smidgeon of advice and a suggestion or two.

Husband and I have always sworn we would never be the kind of parents who, wittingly or not, live through their children. I think we’re doing a fairly good job. Besides, we’re each given only one go around in life, so what better way to model living a full, varied, productive and contributive life than to do just that?

Still, at times it’s easier said than done. Especially when the tug is on the other end.

Aging parents present new issues to be worked through, tough choices to be made. Is it your imagination or are they becoming more forgetful? Illness, disease and medical maladies start to appear, and each time you’re grasping for information and making mental calculations: should I go now or wait to see how the situation progresses?

You can’t do everything, be everywhere, see everybody. They want you to come home for a particular holiday, anniversary or christening and you have to say no because you’re thinking of so-and-so’s wedding next year or being there for someone’s upcoming chemotherapy.

And sometimes you can’t even be there for those.

Juggling expectations and emotions is never easy.

Scholarly squabbling aside, Heraclitus of Ephesus is generally credited with the saying ‘the only constant in life is change’.

Like many, we’re dealing with this with Husband’s and my parents, trying to make the best choices and do the right things, prepare for emergencies while missing lesser (but no less stressful) developments.

And as it is with many families, it puts the onus on our siblings to help keep us apprised and in the loop, updated with behind-the-scenes assessments and important details.

We’re in that murky soup where visits on both sides are being postponed or moved up, schedules rearranged, further changes in plans contemplated.

I can tell you, it’s never enough.











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