it's all about me

The fifty-something dagwood (and the changing shape of families)

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Being fifty-something, I read plenty about baby boomers being the “sandwich” generation, sandwiched between stay-at-home adult children and caring for long-lived, elderly parents.

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I think, there are more dimensions to the midlife meal than that. Many more. It’s a multi-layered “dagwood” sandwich that caters for modern-day appetites. For example, we’ve added another string to our “care” bow, lovingly supporting those around us (family, friends, even ourselves) through major social, emotional and financial implications of separation and divorce. And doing so without judgement because we genuinely care. And it still takes a village, right?

I’m part of a generation that grew up alongside fast-changing attitudes to divorce, marriage, parenting and child support.

More than ever, today’s fifty-somethings might be called on to help adult children negotiate shared parental responsibilities, seek advice on family law matters, take on a custody role themselves or search for information on child maintenance order.

Grandparents have rights (and responsibilities), too. And thanks to the focus on family wellbeing, today’s fifty-somethings surrounded by specialists and support services that help ensure children, in particular, are looked after physically, emotionally and financially. Through the magic of the internet, we can connect with all the resources and advice we need to help support, advise or advocate for those around us.

I’m not complaining and I’m not necessarily talking about my own experience. It’s more what I see around me and how it influences the people I love most. It’s a part of modern living and I’m so grateful that my kids live in a world where people are no longer forced to stay in marriages that aren’t working. And I love that attitudes have changed. Instead of focussing on who to blame, we now concentrate on planning the best future for families, especially the affected children.

In Australia, the principle of no-fault divorce was established in 1975, the year I turned sixteen. A flurry of divorce actions followed, with numbers peaking in 2001 and since then, decreased year-on-year.

Currently, one in three marriages ends in divorce. What our parents considered unusual (and their parents rarely discussed) is now commonplace (I say that without, in any way, diminishing the personal trauma of those who experience relationship breakdown). It’s a rare fifty-something sandwich that doesn’t include at least one layer of relationship breakdown. The shape of families has changed; we’re living in a world of co-parenting, re-partnering, blended families and step families. It’s about flexibility, creativity and acceptance.

Family and household arrangements, though brimming with love and care, are complex. From into slotting parenting schedules managed across multiple households, to mediating pick-ups and drop-offs or helping fill out the child support paperwork, fifty-somethings are very much a part of the support networks that help modern families get through their busy weeks.

And how do we do it? One bite of that towering dagwood sandwich at a time. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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