Young and Old: The Odd Sides of the Sandwich Generation

TwoOfUs1Scholars have a name for the twentieth-first century adults that get caught up in the care of their elderly parents and younger kids. They call it the “Sandwich Generation.” Claude Berri’s film The Two of Us (1967) offers a tender portrait of the sides of this group. Claude, an 8-year-old Jewish boy, and Pepe, an old anti-Semitic veteran, are temporarily pushed out of the lives of working adults and forced to live together. Initially, the odd couple seems to belong to enemy groups. But they turn out to be great companions.

Young and old have traditionally been paired up, and there is reason to believe that it is their shared belonging to marginalized groups (childhood and senior-hood) that opens up a space for them to be together. In Western societies, children and seniors often get neglected and infantilized. They are seen as unproductive members of society. Yet the relationship between Claude and Pepe reminds us that young and old have plenty to contribute, and, as Generations United—a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group for intergenerational care—reported in 2007, they often work best when paired:

adults enrolled in [intergenerational] programs have enhanced socialization opportunities and a greater sense of engagement in their communities. They have better emotional and mental health as well as stronger physical health than [other seniors out of touch with kids]…When [seniors serve] as mentors and teachers to the children they [gain] “a sense of purpose and added dignity to their lives.”

As for the kids:

Children, too, benefit greatly from increased positive interaction with older adults…children involved in intergenerational programming [have] improved academic performance, a more positive attitude to aging and [are] more socially and personally mature than their peers…[In intergenerational centers] children receive more one-on-one attention. The toddlers enjoy sitting on the lap of one of the [seniors] and having a book read to them before napping. The elder clients also help out…holding and rocking the babies individually—an unhurried time that is not often possible in traditional child care facilities….[In fact] children in intergenerational programming [have] a stronger ability to handle delayed gratification, a reduced bias against the elderly and a greater sensitivity to persons with disabilities.

I think the effort to bring these two groups together is admirable. The risk of intergenerational care, if any, is that by grouping and claiming to protect young and old, these programs reinforce their marginalization. Nonetheless, their effort is valuable because it restores people’s faith in this population’s productivity and opens up a space for young and old to learn from each other.

—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor

le vieil homme et l'enfant (GHIRLANDAIO 1490)

Signature image: An Old Man and his Grandson, (ca. 1490) by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Featured photograph: Claude and Pepe in The Two of Us

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