The Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich Generation

Many adults today are experiencing a new definition of middle age known as the “sandwich generation”.  Sandwich Generation - what a quirky term - but it refers to adults who are “sandwiched” between caring for their own children and caring for their parents. Longer lifespans and couples deciding to delay starting a family are contributing factors to the sandwich generation phenomenon.

According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center nearly half, or 47% of adults in their late 30’s- 50’s have a parent age 65 or older and a child under the age of 18 for whom they are the primary caregiver.  For some, it’s more than one parent and more than one child.  Family caregivers have been predominantly women although more men are taking on the role of caregiver either to help their spouse or they are the only one available to provide much needed support.

A few other interesting facts about the sandwich generation include:

  • 75% of all adults say they feel a responsibility to provide financial assistance to an aging parent when needed.
  • Members of the sandwich generation are mostly middle-aged, with 71% being between the ages of 40-59; 19% are younger than 40 and 10% are 60 or older.
  • Married adults are more likely than unmarried adults to be sandwiched between caring for elderly parents and their children, with 38% being married and only 13% being unmarried.
  • 23% of adults have provided financial support to an aging parent in the past year, with 72% reporting that this assistance was for ongoing expenses.

Double duty caring can take an emotional toll on the caregiver as well as creating a financial burden.  Burnout is not uncommon.  Some of the most common issues are the following:

  • Stress

  • Financial Hardship

  • Depression

  • Exhaustion

Often caregivers in the sandwich generation with high levels of stress, feel they do not have enough time in the day to complete their multitude of responsibilities.  Lack of sleep is also cited as a stressor due to worrying over some tasks left undone.  If these issues are left unchecked, they can have a negative impact on family relationships, careers and finances.  

Learning how to tackle the stress brought on by caregiving is essential for the well-being of whole family.  Otherwise, overstressed caregivers will not be able to provide the best care for their children and elderly parents.  If one family member suffers, it can have ripple effect on all family members. 

If the Sandwich Generation is caring for everyone else, then who is caring for them? Though becoming part of the Sandwich Generation might be unavoidable, there are ways you, as a caregiver, may be able to help prevent financial burdens, career development problems and personal health risks. Here are few tips:

  • Be kind to yourself and take a break - Remember to take some time for yourself to relax and rejuvenate, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day.  It will help to re-energize you for the tasks ahead.  A walk to the mailbox can be a mini-vacation. Sun, and even rain, can be good for the soul. Exercise of any kind can help to release some of the frustration that caregivers experience.

  • Take care of your health - Be sure to get a good night’s rest and eat healthy nourishing foods to keep you energetic and feeling well. Don’t skip annual medical screenings and check-ups.  If you don’t take care of yourself, then you can’t succeed in taking care of your loved ones.

  • Laugh - Laughter can help to lighten an otherwise stressful time.  Find joy in the simple things of life.  A quick 10 minute “fun” break may be just what you need to get through the day.

  • Avoid hard and fast plans - Purchasing tickets for concerts or registering for a class that you may be unable to attend at the last minute can add to your frustration. It may be more refreshing to use your free time to take a walk, shop, nap, or catch up on a hobby. Think ahead about how you might spend some free time so you won’t waste it.  Learn to use it wisely.

  • Prioritize and reprioritize - Having a daily plan in place is a great way to stay ahead of the game, but remain flexible as much as possible, as unexpected circumstances will arise.

  • Get organized - Organize all of your parents’ financial documents, insurance, wills and any other important documents and keep them in a safe place.  Be sure to maintain your own important records too.  Not knowing your parents financial affairs can be a major contributor to caretaker stress. It will help you plan for the best care available for them.

  • Ask for and accept help - Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  No one is able to deal with all of these layers of responsibilities alone. Get help with caregiving as well as with your own tasks - things like work, cleaning and shopping. You won’t feel as overwhelmed and may find you have more free time to relax.

  • Research Available Resources - Check with the local office on aging or visit benefitscheckup.org to find out what benefits are available—there are programs available that cover a range of needs, from daily nutrition to assistance with monthly utility bills.

Sandwich generation caregivers are an extraordinary group of people who face a myriad of challenges on a daily basis.  With the right help and support from other family members and other organizations, they can manage their role as caregiver and find enjoyment in spending time with both elderly parents and children.  They may even find that it can enrich their family time by having different generations interact with each other and create a family history that you might not ordinarily have. Find joy in the small things and that will help ease your load of responsibility as a caregiver.