Over 50 & Caught In The Middle

Posted on: 13 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Help! My mother has turned into a child, and my children are my biggest critics.

Throughout our lives, we will at times take stock of where we are and where we’re going.  Big birthdays are definitely milestones for reflection and assessment and we find ourselves pondering on all sorts of questions.

We ask ourselves; ‘What have I done with my life so far?’; ‘What am I doing with my life now?’; ‘How many different roles do I play?'; I’m a worker, partner, mother, carer and volunteer. Are these the roles I want to go on playing?’  Finally, ‘How will these roles change over the next few years and how am I going to shape my future?’

Many of us spent a lot of our 30s and 40s running to keep up. Having families, developing our career, and trying to ensure security in our old age. We imagined by the time we got into our 50's and beyond, it would all be sorted and that life would be easy - or certainly easier.

For some that may be true, and for many it is in some aspects of their life.  However all too often we find ourselves with children still living at home, keeping an eye on them in addition to those that live away, managing the house and caring for elderly relatives. The dilemma seems to be how do we juggle the conflicting demands of our lives now without being overwhelmed by everyone else’s demands? How do I get some time for me?

Things have been very different for us compared to our parents so we have to work out how to do this next stage in our own way.

We, the baby boomers promoted an idea that younger people are better, more full of energy, more technologically adept and more business-minded, something that has certainly been taken on board by our children’s generation. Shifts have been seen within families and generations. For example, our parents, teachers and carers generally assumed they ‘knew best’ whereas we tend to relate to our children in a more consensual way, accepting that the younger person has valid ideas.

We are now labelled the ‘sandwich generation’ - the filling in the middle between these groups. This can lead to tensions both externally and internally. We carry many of the values instilled by our parents and those we handed onto our children - and these conflict at times

Families were, when we were growing up, very hierarchical with grandparents at the head. Even within peer generations, there was a hierarchy with older siblings often left to look after younger ones and therefore expecting a similar respect. Just being a member of one of those groups gave you certain roles and expectations.

Things are certainly different.  Many young people do not settle down into long-term relationships or raise a family till later in life. They have more years without other responsibilities - and many of them living at home well into their twenties.

Many of our generation have taken on the caring role of elderly loved ones, feeling they have no choice and being both angry and sad about it rather than facing what this truly means in terms of their own lives. There is no right or wrong way in any of this.  Each individual has to make his or her own decision. Whatever that may be, the important thing is that we think about it in advance.

Alongside this, people of our generation also want to do it differently.  Many of us are unprepared to fall into the stereotype of an older person and do not plan to live life in a conventional way. This will include finding ways to continue to work post retirement age as well as having time to travel and pursue other interests. So our external world is changing but are we truly changing within ourselves?

The challenges for us are two-fold.  One is to learn to be adult with our children (when they’re adults) even when we’re tempted to tell them how they should behave or want to muscle in when it should be their partner looking after them, not their mother.

The other is to learn how to be adult with our own parents and not succumb to their demands just because we are their children. Choosing to look after either group is fine, it is when we find ourselves doing things out of duty that we get ourselves into trouble.

By Keren Smedley

Keren Smedley of Experience MattersKeren Smedley is Agony Aunt in Woman's Weekly, and director of Experience Matters - an organisation set up to empower the 50+ generationand to help us manage this next stage of life.  Experience Matters offers coaching, workshops, advice and information. 

Keren is also author of  Who’s That Woman In The Mirror? A hugely practical but always entertaining guide to life in which Keren Smedley argues passionately against outdated stereotypes about age, and helps people change their belief and attitude to ageing. 

For further information on both her workshops and book, visit www.experiencematters.org.uk



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