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27 June 2016

What the sandwich generation means for the Church

What the sandwich generation means for the Church

There are many terms given to today's millennials, such as the boomerang generation, returning back after university, and the Peter Pan generation, living at home, not saving, having a lot of fun and apparently therefore not growing up. The Office of National Statistics estimates that there are 3.3million 20 to 34-year-olds in this situation, living at the Hotel of Mum and Dad, and sometimes even relying on the Bank of Mum and Dad, which was this year classed as a top 10 mortgage lender.

Our own research for our latest survey goes on to show that 57 per cent of respondents agree that millennials are less likely to achieve a stable and happy family life than boomers did.

We are also living longer than ever before, with UK adults now expected to live until 81.5, and the number of those living until 100 increasing by 73 per cent in a decade.

It leaves those in the middle in a difficult position. There is a generation of boomers who now have to work longer than ever before, as the retirement age has increased with life expectancy, but who also are sandwiched with responsibility. For many, gone are the days of retirement meaning long golf days and trips to the Costa Del Sol. Millions of grandparents are now taking on the role of nanny in more ways than one. The sandwich generation, typically in their 50s and 60s, are taking care of their own aging parents, while still playing a significant role in the lives of their child and perhaps even grandchildren.

This has a knock-on effect for the Church. Two fifths of older people volunteer some of their time, yet with the expectation being on grandparents to help out with childcare, and their own parents living far longer, it's becoming increasingly hard for them to find the time.

Helen Davis, who is retired and lives in London, had to give up two leadership roles in church to look after her elderly parents. Every eight weeks she drove to their home in east Anglia for a couple of nights, and found she could no longer commit to her leadership responsibilities. 

Neither Helen nor her husband Stephen believed that when they reached retirement age they would also have their grown up children living with them. "I expected that their lives would follow a long-established pattern of jobs and families. How wrong can you be?" commented Stephen.

Theirs is a familiar story to many boomers. Stephen said: "My mother lives in her own home and is determined to stay there. She is able to manage at home, but not able to go out without assistance. I visit twice a week to take in shopping, collect washing etc."

The couple enjoy their caring role, but it does have its drawbacks: "Without these supporting roles we could travel more," Helen said. "We also might have time and energy to be more active in church or the community."

More millennials are living back at home with their parents today than at any time since 1940. Thankfully, Helen and Stephen are glad to have two of their children still at home with them: "Having our daughters at home, and still in the same church as us, keeps us in better contact with their contemporaries.

"I think this keeps me younger, and gives me a wider outlook on life. I find this a positive experience."

The gas and electricity bills may be a little higher with while they're in the house, Stephen joked, but both parents believe the girls keep them young. "Supporting elderly parents is much more challenging, " Helen said. "I have no doubt it's a good thing to do, but it is work, and there is more of it to do as the years go by. Having our adult daughters at home is probably a good antidote." 

Kim and Brenda Arnold agreed. While their parents are only a slight burden on their  time – "they do their shopping online!" – they enjoy the time spent helping their children with their own childcare: "Our grandchildren are a real joy to us. One is nearly three. He is great fun and it is a privilege to help look after him, when both parents are at work. Particularly special are times when we read books together, including Bible stories. His parents read a children's Bible and pray with him every night and this is a joy to see."

This ability to help in the spiritual development of children is a unique opportunity.

"It seems to us that life would be much less fulfilling if we had no children, daughters-in- law and grandchildren. God sets the solitary in families (Psalm 68:6). He is good!"

While retirement has changed for many people, all those I spoke to believed it was for the better. They are able to do more and be involved in the lives of their family far more than they dreamed possible. Rather than consider the cost of this to the Church, perhaps we should instead think about the lessons we can learn: family values, servant-heartedness, stewardship of resources and maybe even the importance of having fun.

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