The Rapidian Home

Three generation households are on local menus as sandwich families

Many local families are living a life of eldercare and child rearing under one roof as a 'sandwich family'. How does it work?

/Cathy Kulhawik

Underwriting support from:

Many local families are living a life of eldercare and child rearing under one roof as a Sandwich Family. After all, Grand Rapids is a great place to live, retire, and raise a family.

One such family is my family. My husband, Jim, and I live just south of Grand Rapids, with our teenaged children, Sam and Veronica, and our rescue dog, Sadie. My grandfather, Frank, a widower and World War II veteran lives with us. Grandpa enjoys good health at 95, but his days of yard work and driving in rush hour traffic are behind him.

One of the most immediate difficulties of a Sandwich Family is the merging of household items. Grandpa came with a lifetime of possessions: furniture, kitchenware, heirlooms of the 1800s, letters, and thousands of photographs. Jim and I have our own life’s accumulations. The sorting is tedious. Family and friends get the best extras, and charity shops get the rest.

Sandwich Families are blended families. To me, Grandpa was a mythic hero of my childhood coming to recline at table on a daily basis. To the teenagers, their great grandfather was a distant relative they hardly knew. This newcomer took attention away from them, which can be awkward or even painful. On the other hand, Veronica and Sam are challenged to become self sufficient and mature.

Change has challenged Grandpa, as well. He and his wife had been empty nesters for 47 years, when she passed. Suddenly, Grandpa was sharing space with teenagers. The 21st century slang and habits of young people whiz around him in a noisy babble.

Sadie the rescue dog had been abused before she came to us. Had she not accepted Grandpa, we would have had to make a difficult decision. We could not risk the safety of a human being for the sake of an animal, albeit a beloved pet. Thankfully, Sadie and Grandpa are quite fond of each other.

But there are joys in Sandwich Family life, too. Dinners and cocktail hours are times of reconnection. Jim has learned from Grandpa how to make a fine Manhattan. Dinners are unhurried, a welcome slowing of the busy-ness of modern life.

Grandpa lives beyond his own time. He witnessed his great grandson being recognized during a National Honor Society induction. And, he watched his great granddaughter graduate from high school. Wonder and pride showed on his face.

My teenagers are seeing the sacrifices that love requires. I hope that they will watch out for my husband and me when we are in our twilight.

Living as a Sandwich Family has its difficulties and joys. What can make this arrangement successful involves the right place and the right time. Grand Rapids is a family oriented place, and community support through people and events have been invaluable. But timing is a more complex factor. The elder must have enough time ahead of him to adapt to change. The children must have enough growing time behind them to be independent. The married couple must have enough time together. And, the dog must have petting time from everybody.

As a result, my mythic grandfather has become my friend. He gives me career pointers that are classic and effective. But what about when I am acting as a care giver? Grandfather asked me how I could tell if I was doing a good job. I told him he could give me a performance review at the end of the quarter.


The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.