The Sandwich Generation refers to the group of adults who care for their parents while supporting children of their own. This is a concept that most people are familiar with, but don’t realize actually has a formal name. If you are here, there’s a decent chance you are a member of the Sandwich Generation or will be in the future.
According to a 2013 Pew research report, “Nearly half (47 percent) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). And about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15 percent) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child” (Parker & Patten). In 2005, the sandwich generation was largely made up of baby boomers.
Fast forward to 2014, and the boomers have started to age out of the sandwich generation and become the recipients of care from the new sandwich generation. Generation X is now the predominant demographic in the sandwich generation. In addition, Pew research reports three-in-ten Hispanic adults (31 percent) have a parent age 65 or older and a dependent child. This compares with 24 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks. Compound this data with the growing number of children/dependent adult children and seniors who require complex elder care related to increased autism and chronic disease diagnosis, and the stress on the sandwich generation magnifies ten-fold.
Who cares for the sandwich generation? In many cases, no one cares for this group of caregivers, who usually has the added burden of working a full-time job. Additionally, this group often has to juggle an unexpected hospitalization of their loved one with their career obligations. Many outsiders to this issue may think a hospitalization might give the caregiver some respite, when in fact most caregivers have an added stressor when a loved one is hospitalized, and their already hectic daily routine is altered.
Self-care is typically neglected by the sandwich generation. Learning to integrate simple self-care tips into your daily routine will help caregivers to stay healthy. The healthy caregiver provides a higher level of physical and emotional care to their loved one and this is a gift that keeps on giving.
Mothers in the “sandwich generation,” ages 35-54, feel more stress than any other age group as they balance the demanding, delicate acts of caring for growing children and their aging parents, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey. And while nearly two-in-five men and women in this age group feel overextended, the survey reveals that more women than men report experiencing extreme stress and say they manage their stress poorly.
Nearly 40 percent of those aged 35-54 report extreme levels of stress (compared to 29 percent of 18-34 years old and 25 percent of those older than 55). This stress takes a toll not only on personal relationships — 83 percent say relationships with their spouse, children and family is the top source of their stress — but also on their own well-being as they struggle to take better care of themselves. As the holidays approach, it’s a good time for moms and their families to recognize the importance of addressing stress and managing it in healthy ways.
As the elderly population grows and a new crop of young adults are financially struggling to attain a solid financial foothold in trying economic times, individuals ‘sandwiched’ between aging parents and adult children are adequately referred to as ‘the sandwich generation’. This is because they are often put in the position to care for both their children and parents simultaneously, and this support is often both emotional and financial.
This rising demographic already accounts for about 47 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s who have a parent 65 or older and are also raising a youngster or supporting a grown child. In fact, one in seven of these adults are financially assisting both their parents and one or more children.
While the number of sandwich generation’s members have increased dramatically, statistics show that the financial burdens associated with being responsible for multiple generations are rising. Interestingly, it’s primarily not elderly parents or grandparents posing the burden, but rather their adult children.
With more post-college youths coming home to live with parents or doing so throughout school, there are now estimates that almost 30% of 25-34 year olds reside with their parents. Essentially this leaves parents taking care of many of their children’s financial burdens in addition to tending to other responsibilities they may bring about.
As if this isn’t stressful enough, those amid the sandwich generation are handed double duty by also wanting or needing to help take care of their aging parents—a role many consider far more their responsibility than taking care of adult children.
The sandwich generation can often experience the following specific stressors among others:
1. Caregiver burnout and feelings of depression, guilt and isolation.
2. Issues finding the time to be a good spouse, parent, and child simultaneously.
3. Trouble managing work, hobbies, relationships and time for themselves.
4. Psychological issues as they struggle with being pulled in multiple directions every day.
These are only a few potential fallbacks to being a caregiver sandwiched between two generations, but these tips can help keep one on track.
1. Identify stressors. What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?
2. Recognize how you deal with stress. Are you using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of supporting your children and parents, and is this specific to certain events or situations?
3. Put things in perspective. Make time for what’s really important. Prioritize and delegate responsibilities. Identify ways your family and friends can lessen your load so that you can take a break. Delay or say no to less important tasks.
4. Find healthy ways to manage stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities — taking a short walk, exercising, or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.
5. Take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity like walking or yoga or your weekly softball game. Keep in contact with your friends, family members. No matter how hectic life gets, you need to take care of yourself — which includes making time for yourself — so you have the mental and physical energy to care for your parents and children.
6. Ask for professional support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to persevere during stressful times. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress or unhealthy behaviors you use to cope, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your worries, better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors. Asking for support from elder care advocates for long term care planning or elder care services can also be a great help during stressful times.
My Elder provides elder advocacy services to families. Talk to us about long-term planning, finding the right home for your loved ones, preventing crisis and abuse, preventing nursing home eviction or nursing home involuntary discharge, and ensuring they receive the best care possible.
Photo Credits Tyler Nix and Paulo Bendandi