How the Sandwich Generation Can Help Their Parents Create a
Legacy of Meaning
Baby Boomer member of the Sandwich Generation, perhaps you have
already had talks with your aging parents about their wills,
beneficiaries, and advanced medical directives for hospital care. But
have you discussed an ethical will or the legacy of meaning they wish
to leave behind? As parents grow older, it becomes more important to
them to be remembered for the life lessons they taught than for the
material gifts they leave behind.
Rachel remembers her first experience with just such a legacy. "My
mother-in-law was a wise woman. Although she wasn't able to continue
her education beyond high school, her understanding of people rivaled
that of any psychologist. She raised my husband, a sickly boy, to be
self-confident and to strive for the best. She gave all of her
grandchildren unconditional love and support. And she never questioned
my place in our family. But I think her wisdom was most valuable to
all of the family after she learned that her cancer had metastasized.
Before she died, she had long private talks with each one of us, never
shying away from the truth, even with her grandchildren. She wanted to
leave a lasting personal legacy with every member of her family and a
final expression of her love for each of us. I am still strengthened
by the memory of my final talk with her, even today."
What can you do to help create a legacy of meaning within your own
family? To get started, here are some suggestions.
1. Spend quality time talking with your parents about the values that
are important to them.
Ask them specific questions about what ethics
have guided them through the years. You probably know some of these
answers from having observed them and their role modeling, but the
conversations can be further enlightening. As Mimi cared for her mom
when she was at the end stages of heart failure, they had long
conversations deep into the night. Mimi grew to appreciate her mother
as never before. "I used to criticize her for being so frugal. I now
realize she was afraid she wouldn't have enough money to survive. I
decided to use the small inheritance she managed to save for me in a
way she would appreciate. I've opened college bank accounts for the
children of my brother, who is struggling financially. I am proud that
I can honor my mom in this way."
2. Talk with your parents about their past and the stories of their
lives. Their tales will become a part of how you remember them.
Through you, the history of your parents will be preserved from
generation to generation. Look through their old photographs and
listen to the memories they evoke. Video tape these conversations to
have a lasting visual and oral record of them. View these family
photos and videos as a slice of life - a gift for the future to be
enjoyed by your children and grandchildren. Sarah loved seeing the
pictures of her mother as a teenager, having fun with her friends at
the beach. "Mom always worked so hard - she had two jobs when we were
little - and I think it aged her tremendously. My children see her
only as very old and infirm. When I show them pictures of her as a
girl, full of energy and enthusiasm, she seems more real to them."
3. Identify what you consider to be your parents' personal strengths
and talk with them about the strengths they
remember in their own parents. Create a family strengths tree,
focusing both on strengths that have been passed down and on those
that are unique to each family member. You will have a concrete visual
profile of your ancestors' virtues to guide you and your children.
Toby recalled the impact that her father's character had on her. "He
taught me so much about how to be a good human being just by the way
he treated everyone around him. I try to live up to his standard of
morality every day in the way I live my life."
4. Consult with books or Internet websites to help your parents create
an ethical will. Your family will be enriched by their legacy -
knowing what they believed in, their values and rituals, and how they
lived their lives. Remaining emotionally open during this interactive
process can help you better understand your parents as well as
yourself and your own personal goals. Shortly before he died, Lynn and
her father wrote down some of his thoughts and answers to the
questions they had discussed. Now when she feels troubled, she spends
time rereading her journal. "Dad lived to age 92. He is always in my
mind and I have the words we wrote together to ground me. He was the
only one who could make me feel stronger, and I always think about the
way he would want me to handle myself in difficult situations."
Going through the process with your aging parents may even give you a
head start on thinking about your own ethical will. What values do you
want to pass on to your children? How can you role model these for
them today? How can you live your life now as if these values really
are important to you? How you answer these kinds of questions to
yourself can help you create your own legacy of meaning for your
children and grandchildren over the next decades.
(c) 2007, Her
About the Author:
Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are founders of
a website for midlife women and
a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming
book about Baby Boomers and family relationships. They offer free
Additional Information and
webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed
Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate