Yet Another Label for Generations
This week we’re looking at the challenges faced by one particular generation in many families.
While we’ve previously discussed topics related to the “rising generation” in a family (a.k.a. NextGen) and on the leading or senior generation (a.k.a. NowGen), we’re going for something a bit different this time.
Most people are familiar with the term “Sandwich Generation”, based on the everyday challenges people in this position face no matter which socio-economic strata they inhabit.
I want to examine some of the special aspects of being in such a situation in an enterprising (a.k.a. affluent) family.
The Meat in the Sandwich
The term “sandwich generation” comes from being caught in between two other generations, much like the meat in a sandwich.
With increasing life expectancy, combined with couples having children later, more and more people in their 40’s and 50’s find themselves in this unenviable position.
Their offspring still rely on them and they’re rightly concerned with that following generation properly launching into independent adulthood.
Meanwhile, their parents have reached a stage in their lives where they also require care and attention.
This segment of the lives of the sandwich folks also happens to overlap with the most important years in their careers, and thus their work responsibilities, only adding to the challenges.
Patience Has Its Limits
A few months back, in On Patience and Impatience in Family Transitions, I wrote the following:
“The two (or three) generations need to take their time and incrementally move decisions and actions from the NowGen to the NextGen.
That might sound like a very simple thing to do, but in reality it’s quite difficult.
This came home to me recently when my social media team put a podcast interview I’d done a while ago back into circulation.
On a 2018 episode of The True Wealth Project Podcast, which I recently re-listened to, I was personally stumped by a question about my own personal legacy planning vis-à-vis my children.
One Generation at a Time
The host asking me about my own family brought home the realization that I myself was one of these sandwich dwellers, and I knew that I was not alone.
In fact, when I wrote “The two (or three) generations” in that previous post, it should have been clear already.
Perhaps when I had written that, where the context was a family who were actively working on clarifying their legacy so that it would be successfully passed down, I was assuming that the generation in the middle would see themselves as part of the process and therefore not an afterthought.
But as I reflect on this, I can’t help but think that people in this position really need complete clarity of what is coming to them before they can think about how they’re going to eventually leave it to their offspring.
When Will Things Be Clear?
As I write these words and process them at the same time, it’s dawning on me that I’ve been confounding two separate issues: timing and clarity.
Last week, when I wrote How to ACE your FamBiz Succession Planning the “C” in ACE stood for “Clarity”, so I was unintentionally foreshadowing this point a week in advance.
But things don’t necessarily have to have already happened for them to be clear.
Perhaps the fact that I married into a family with little clarity has affected my view on this topic.
Don’t Wait for the Triggering Event to Ask Questions
Some families just never talk about things that are in fact inevitable, such as the eventual death of one of the family elders.
They don’t want to talk about such subjects because they don’t want to be disrespectful or seem like they are rooting for something to occur in the near term.
Meantime, any planning for the future gets put on the back burner, because of the lack of clarity mentioned above.
Somewhere in a legal document lie the answers to many of the questions that are on the minds of many family members.
But nobody wants to ask the questions.
Coach, Coach Thyself
Every family is different, and some members are more comfortable in rocking the boat and bringing up uncomfortable subjects.
The expression “physician, heal thyself” comes to mind now, for me.
I’m not a doctor, but I am a coach, and maybe I need to think of myself as a coaching client and see if there are any ideas I might want to be pursuing myself, as I search for some clarity.
Or maybe not.