Welcome to the sandwich generation! No, Darren and I are not PB&J addicts — we’re middle aged parents with dependent children and grandparents who need a little of our help too.
Our exposure to this new type of lifestyle has just begun. It started when Darren’s dad passed away a little under a decade ago. Suddenly we were faced with the shock of helping his mom through this transition while still providing the same love and support to our kids at home. Since then we’ve been through heart surgeries, knee replacements, boyfriends (for grandma and for our two daughters *grin*) and graduations. I can’t say we’ve loved every minute of it but there were lots of happy moments, lots of challenging moments and, ultimately, the sense of accomplishment that comes with successfully juggling the demands of life.
For me, one of the most rewarding facets of being the tasty middle of the sandwich has been having the opportunity to plan some tri-generational trips.
Last summer we spent the week in Osoyoos, BC and included my parents in the trip. Our oldest daughter is at university in Abbotsford (about a 2 hour drive) so it’s close enough for her to join us for a weekend. As well, my mom’s sister recently moved there and mom was thrilled to have the chance to visit with her. There was a pool, a beach (with beach volleyball for the kids), shopping and a golf course and the four day visit was the perfect length for our family to reconnect without growing tired of each other.
This year we’ve been to Victoria, BC. My parents and Darren’s mom and her new husband were there. Our oldest daughter joined us from university and our 17 year old daughter was with us (we likely wouldn’t convince the grandmas to come otherwise *laugh*). Afternoon Tea at Butchart Gardens was the big “event” while visiting Victoria – all the grandparents were thrilled to be visiting. Our daughters enjoyed time at the hotel pool (it was an outdoor pool so they get to suntan a bit in May which is almost unheard of here in Canada!)
Considerations for Tri-Generational Travel:
1. Manage expectations: Zip Lining Grandparents
Especially with the children, I think it’s really important to pitch the trip as a chance to spend special time together as a family. Of course it depends on how active the oldest generation is but for us, they aren’t that mobile. For this reason, we skip the amusement parks and shopping malls, opting instead for pretty parks or beaches and interesting places to share a meal. Someplace with lots of comfy seating close to the drop off location that also has space to run around. Our perfect afternoon is spent somewhere where grandma and grandpa can sit on a bench taking endless photos while the girls play beach volleyball with Dad.
We actually tried to plan a trip to a Disney resort with Darren’s mom – her reaction was a shudder and an apologetic, “I really don’t want to hang out with screaming kids, Mickey Mouse and a bunch of princesses for a week.” Having said that, that same Grandma is the only one in the family who’s ever gone zip-lining (she was 66 at the time) – apparently, you have to know when to break the rules!
2. Financial considerations: I’m not rich, I’m just middle aged.
Let’s face it – somewhere in your 40’s and 50’s you’ll likely hit the lifetime peak of your financial comfort. The low-income “start up” years are a distant memory but you’re still a long ways from having to budget for life on a fixed income. As a middle aged parent, my gut feeling is always to pay a little extra money if it makes things “easier” on me – that gut feeling is wrong when I add my parents to a trip.
I have to constantly remind myself not to always offer to just “pick up the bill”. My dad wants to pay his share (and is completely able to!) He’s a proud man who’s done a great job saving for his retirement and he doesn’t want to be treated like a dependent. In order to include them in our travels we do have to be a bit more budget conscious when he and mom are along. We don’t want them feeling the pinch when we return nor do we want to insult them by “just paying” for everything. It’s a balancing act that will be a bit different for every family.
3. Quality over Quantity:
I know… you want to go half way around the world and lay on a romantic beach with your husband for a month or three. I do too!
You can’t (at least I can’t) – not quite yet. Just put that vision back in the drawer and embrace it in 5 or 6 years when you’re empty nesters. If you’re traveling with your children and your parents, at least until you see how it goes, keep the trips fairly short and fairly close to home. You have to get time off as do your kids (school, sports, friends, eek… how do we ever get away!?) Grandparents have busy schedules too. It can be tough to coordinate a time when everyone is available. Instead of trying to fit in a long, exotic tri-generational trip we just get away for a long weekend as a whole group instead – it’s a lot of fun and, honestly, likely suits our group make up better.
Besides coordinating schedules, health concerns are an issue as people age. My parents have both had heart surgeries and a variety of “pre-existing conditions”. Even if you have awesome travel insurance, it can be hard (not to mention stressful) if you actually have to use it when you’re in a foreign country. Why take the risk when you’re traveling with three generations when there are usually so many fascinating shorter trips you can take close to home.
Darren and I had a wonderful time in Victoria and I think the rest of the family did too.