April 24-30 marks Global Intergenerational Week, a worldwide campaign that encourages everyone to embrace intergenerational practice and relationships. At Root & Seed, this is part of our core and benefits as a social enterprise. As layers in the sandwich generation, founders Anika Chabra and Jennifer Siripong Mandel are uniquely positioned to reflect on their role as the bridges between generations. In this article Anika shares a first-person account of what it’s like to be that bridge, why it feels like a natural and obvious place for them to exist, and how the “way we gather” in families matters.


“This will go into my bank of “happy memories”, my dad said as he blew out his 83rd birthday candles last Friday. Surrounded by a handful of blood family, a handful of chosen family, all filled with love for the guest of honor, this birthday lunch felt just a tad extra special. For Dad, every birthday during this life phase feels special. For me, that small but meaningful comment set the tone for the texture that this memory will hold in my heart - me forcibly imprinting the experience in my mind.

Through the Looking Glass

Observing my father as he has navigated a different type of “ending chapter” to his life than he had imagined after losing his wife of 49 years has felt profound and defining. I’m reminded of Sheryl Sandberg and her book Option B following the passing of her husband and the quote  “When option A is not available, let’s kick the s**t out of option B.”  Is Dad prepared to “kick the s**t out of life at his age?  Maybe and maybe not. Regardless, he is making it work, adopting my Mom’s credo and her legacy bestowed upon all of us …an “attitude of gratitude” to make the valleys of life bearable, while celebrating its peaks. Something she knew all too well.

On the other end of the spectrum of life, as a parent myself, my almost adult children are in the midst of one of the most important chapters in their lives. As late teens, going through a confluence of life decisions and milestones, they are unknowingly experiencing a “reminiscence bump” - a time when the memories they are making will stay with them forever, more pronounced than almost any other life phase. I don’t expect that they are doing this “bump” phase with any sense of knowingness of memory making. But I do think it's cool to think of the unconscious memory networks that are forming. The friends, the songs, outfit choices that will one day make up the fabric of their nostalgic threads. While what I am hoping for is more “happy memories” than “sad” ones, I do know there is growth and definition in the sad ones.  

Looking Inward

Enter in my role, as the generation in between. I constantly feel I’m grasping for more - more time with my children as my children, more birthday candles, wishes, and years with my Dad. Not to mention a state of latent anxiety. My day feels tethered to my phone, checking their location (sorry child #1), and making an excuse to text my Dad daily (sorry for all the weather comments). All the while, in a constant worry about being on the receiving end of “that” phone call. Even more triggering for me as I did get “that” phone call at 1:30 in the morning when I learned my mom had passed suddenly 5 years ago. Life can be cruel… so I continue to think could it happen again? I do worry about their physical health and well-being, yes, yet sometimes even more so about how they are doing mentally. Both generations, same questions.  Are they making the right decisions?, What is their mood today? Are they lonely? And are they sad? And while I know I share the pain, purpose, and privilege of this phase with many, I do wonder if I might feel it perhaps more intimately than others? What experiences in my formative years might have led to comfort and acceptance of this life stage? What has prepared me for now - in a way that feels like muscle memory, coming back to life with more ease than it should?

Intergenerational Connection

I feel more comfortable with people of different generations than mine. In fact I always have. When I was younger I spent a lot of time with my parents and elders willingly - I couldn’t quite seem to make friends with people my own age. Maybe it was being part of a culture that values intergenerational connection, I opted for Saturday afternoons with my grandparents, more than time in the playground. And I relished in those moments, more vividly than the ordinary, natural, and normal school time with my peers. When I was deciding upon what to do in university I chose teaching as a profession and teaching elementary children in particular. And now as a college instructor, I still love to connect with people of younger generations than me. As I approach a milestone birthday myself later this summer, with adult children and an aging father, there is a uniqueness to the role of being “in between”, bridging generations that are not mine - an experience that seems familiar and I don’t take for granted.

I feel like I’m made for an intergenerational world.  And dare I say, perhaps poised to run a platform that brings multiple generations together. While I think there is great burden to be part of the sandwich generation, emotionally and physically, I think it’s a great privilege to witness with a knowingness as we guide generations of the future.  And hold within our beings a deep respect for those generations that have a wisdom that’s worth capturing and holding onto. Observing the paths of the generations before and after me makes me think of all the alternate paths life takes us down. Despite best intentions and planning, goal setting, and the care we take in life, there are often times that the universe has other plans for us.  It’s those “sliding door moments, the ones that may be subtle and small, or the ones that knock us off our feet that help us chart our life when we get to my Dad’s age and look back.

“So what do you suggest”, say you? 

For me with a recognition of an “in-between perspective” I lean into the idea of doubling down on creating as many “happy memories” as humanly possible.  And do so with intention and gusto. Author of “The Art of Gathering”, Priya Parker says “The way we gather matters.” At Root & Seed we agree with that tremendously and believe that extends to gatherings at home and in families. The next time you gather intergenerationally, think about the “memory making” you are creating with your choices as you plan “the form” that the gathering takes on. Feed into each generation’s places of strength, comfort and let them shine. Did you know that one of the reasons our digital tool has two entry points, adult-to-adult questions and child-to-adult questions is to give everyone a role? Democratize the task of storytelling and collecting, and ease the burden of the kinkeeper and make it fun and inviting for all. And did you know that the act of nostalgia has physiological benefits on one’s well-being, no matter what your age? What if the way you structure your gathering is done so that memory making and memory retrieving are celebrated amongst generations? We might know of an activity that’s right for you :) 

Choosing happy doesn’t mean that sad is bad. There’s just enough sadness that happens already, especially as you grow older. So why not choose to deposit as much happy in the bank as possible? Bringing awareness to connecting intergenerationally feels important, pressing and needed, no matter when, how or why. And with the vantage point as the bridge, the “in between” extremes of generations and life stage provides a unique opportunity to be part observer, part integrator, relishing in nostalgic deposits along the way, so enjoy the ride!

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