May 21, 2023
By Mike Davidoff
My name is Mike. I was born in 1974. I am a 1980’s kid. I loved the ‘80’s. I remember fondly some of the bizarre trends like the popularity of Cabbage Patch Kids and the explosion of cheesy music videos on MTV. Some of my favorites include Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Pac Man, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Family Ties and Cheers.
One of my favorite 1980’s movies was Parenthood, which starred Steve Martin as a lovable but perennial grumpy dad named Gil Buckman. Gil and his wife, Karen, are knee deep in the messiness that comes with being members of the ‘sandwich generation’.
According to a Pew Research Center study¹, the sandwich generation is comprised of “those who have a living parent aged 65 or older and are either raising a child under age 18 or supporting a grown child. Not only do many provide care and financial support to their parents and their children, but nearly four in ten say both their grown children and their parents rely on them for emotional support.”
Karen and Gil are clearly in the sandwich generation, and they are struggling to handle the intense pressure of it all. While Karen is more Zen, Gil is clearly not. Gil is the definition of stressed out… an emotional powder keg ready to explode at a moment’s notice.
The Buckman’s are feeling financial pressure. Gil is the breadwinner, but it is clear he is not super hungry to wine and dine potential new advertising clients and bring in new business at the pace that his young, snarky boss expects. Gil would prefer to coach his son’s little league team and attend his daughter’s school plays. On the expense side, the Buckmans’ budget appears to be stretched with three young kids in the house, and now Karen has revealed to Gil the surprise news that she is pregnant with their fourth. It does not take a Certified Financial Planner®
(shameless plug) to have concerns that Gil and Karen are at risk of falling behind on building adequate college and retirement savings.
Karen and Gil are definitely feeling emotional pressures as well. Gil worries about his adequacy as a father in large part due to his twelve year old son Kevin’s lack of confidence and self-esteem. Gil does his darndest to ‘fix’ Kevin by coaching his baseball team and encouraging him to stand up to bullies, but it just is not working. Gil also has anger issues towards his gruff and grumpy father who lacks empathy and does not validate the sacrifices Gil has made for his family. Clearly, the Buckman’s have a lot on their plate.
Yesterday’s 1980’s kids like me and my childhood friends are today’s Gil and Karen’s. We make up most of the sandwich generation, and we all have our own version of financial and emotional pressures that come with this phase of life. We often endure multiple life transitions in the span of a short number of years. While the most common ones are one’s kids growing up, major mid-life and mid-career shifts due to changing wants and needs, and the aging and passing of one’s parents, everyone has their own unique story and journey.
My wife Amy and I are smack in the middle of the sandwich. We are raising two wonderful (albeit hormonal) teenage boys who are a couple years away from college and adulthood. We are navigating our own professional transitions including my decision to start my own financial planning business and my wife’s desire to return to the workforce. We sadly lost each of our dads to illness over the past few years, and we are closely watching our moms and taking a more active role in their financial and healthcare planning.
We are not alone. Most of our friends are going through their own versions of sandwich year challenges. We have a friend who became an empty nester last summer while simultaneously moving her parents three hundred miles closer to care for her father who was diagnosed with early-stage dementia. When I recently attended my milestone twenty-year business school anniversary in Chicago, the conversations with old classmates were noticeably less about career achievements and more about life concerns. Things have clearly shifted.
The intent of this blog is to share in more depth some of the common emotional and financial challenges that are unique to the sandwich generation. I write this from the perspective of both a lifelong personal finance and investment professional, but more so from the lens of someone who believes we all learn from each other’s shared experiences and knowledge to make our own lives just a little bit better.
There is a major silver lining of navigating your way through the sandwich years when so many transitions are happening in a relatively short amount of time. You become more appreciative of the fragility of life, and it often drives us to narrow the focus of our time, energy, money, and attention on what truly matters to each of us. That is a gift that you can only learn through tried and true life experience. If you don’t believe me, watch the scene near the end of Parenthood when Gil and Karen are able to smile and laugh in the midst of the total calamity and chaos that their youngest son has caused at his sister’s elementary school winter play. It is a moment of gratitude and appreciation.
It would be hard for this 1980’s kid to finish an introductory blog post without a Billy Joel reference. One of my favorite Billy Joel songs is “This Is The Time”, which was released in 1986. While Billy may have written this song in reference to his marriage at the time, the words to me these days reflect my view on this special and challenging time in life know as mid-life, or the sandwich years.
“This is the time to remember, ‘cause it will not last forever. These are the days to hold on to, ‘cause we won’t although we want to. This is the time, but time is gonna change. I know we’ve got to move somehow, but I don’t want to lose you now².”
 Pew Research Study, “The Sandwich Generation”, January 30, 2013. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/  Billy Joel, “This Is The Time”, released in 1986.