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What’s Eating the Sandwich Generation?

Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation? Despite the name, it has nothing to do with the local deli but everything to do with where you are in life. Sandwich in this context refers to being responsible for the financial and emotional caring of both children and aging parents. In other words, you are “sandwiched” between these two critical parts of your life.

Sandwich Generation is one of a few globally trending labels that describe family-based phenomenon seen over the last 30 decades or so. Social worker Dorothy A. Miller first introduced it in 1981. In 2012, the Pew Reseach Center added another phrase to describe a similar scenario. The Boomerang Generation refers to adult kids who move back home with one or both parents. What is behind the growing Sandwich Generation and how can you survive it?

How is the Sandwich Generation Defined?

Journalist Carol Abaya breaks down the Sandwich Generation into three distinct categories:

  • Traditional
  • Club Sandwich
  • Open Faced Sandwich

Someone experiencing the traditional sandwich is between aging parents and their children.

Club Sandwich means someone around age 50 or 60 who has to care for adult children who move back home, The Boomerang Generation, and aging parents. In some cases, adult children might bring their children into the picture, as well.

Open Faced describes other people who might care for the elderly along with his or her children.

A 2005 research study conducted by Pew found that one in every eight Americans between 40 and 60 provide financial support to both an elderly parent and a child. The same study estimates that 48 percent of middle-aged adults support one adult child and 27 percent are the primary support, often along with caring for a parent. What has brought on this trend?

What is Behind the Sandwich Generation?

The Sandwich Generation is an artifact of other growing trends:

  • Delayed parenting
  • People living longer

In 1920, the average lifespan was a little over 60 years. Today, that number is closer to 78 years. When you combine longer lives with women deciding to wait until after their 30th birthday to start having children, it’s easy to see how the Sandwich Generation evolved.

Sandwich Generation Facts

The Sandwich Generation consists of people from all backgrounds and races. The U.S. Census Bureau does some common demographics, though, such as:

  • Members of the Sandwich Generation typically are between the ages of 40 and 59 with 10 percent being over 60.
  • Caregivers are mostly women and married.
  • Forty-three percent have incomes over $100,000 a year. Only 25 percent of this group make less than $100,000.
  • Hispanics represent the most prominent group at 31 percent of caregivers with whites and blacks each making up a little over 20 percent.

The Stress Felt by the Sandwich Generation

The American Psychological Association states that people caught in this sandwich are feeling the squeeze. A 2007 study found that two in five people stuck in this situation feel overextended, leaving them stressed in a way that affects both their physical and emotional health, putting them at risk for burnout. Common problems they face include:

  • Stress fatigue
  • Financial hardship
  • Depression

It’s not all bad, however. The Pew Report also says that 31 percent of those surveyed stated despite the challenges, they were happy with their lives.

How to Manage Life in the Sandwich

There is little doubt that living as a member of the Sandwich Generation comes with challenges but what can you do? Start by breaking down the problems into three groups:

  • Emotional
  • Organizational
  • Financial

Once you do that you can find tips to help manage each.

Tips for Emotional Challenges

  • Identify what is causing stress. Are there specific events or situations that trigger it for you? Consider keeping a stress diary and writing down what is going on when you do feel overwhelmed. By pinpointing stressors, you might be able to develop solutions that eliminate them.
  • Investigate how you deal with stress. What are your coping mechanisms? What new ones can you try like going for a walk, for example? Pick one unavoidable stressor at a time and find a way to manage your stress.
  • Learn to worry about you, too. In the midst of caring for both kids and parents, don’t lose sight of the need for self-care. Keep a schedule for yourself. When do you eat each day? When can you exercise? How about some social interaction?

Tips for Organization Challenges

  • Develop an effective system of family communication. Get in the habit of holding family meetings each week to discuss everyone’s role in caring for each other. Make a list of needs and expectations to meet them.
  • Create rules for both kids and parents. Who pays for what? How do you establish boundaries to ensure everyone’s privacy?
  • Put a schedule for the family in writing. When is family dinner? What time do you go to bed? When do you need to exercise? What about exercise for parents? The more structured your schedule, the better.
  • Plan ahead. What happens when you can’t care for an aging parent anymore? What are the options for home nursing? What will insurance pay?

Tips for Financial Challenges

Some of the organizational tips also work in this category. For example, make it clear who pays what? How much are siblings contributing and how are they paying?

Look at your parent’s insurance options. What life insurance do they have and can they cash in early and use it to help pay for medical expenses. Do they have long-term care coverage or unused VA benefits? How is their savings being used?

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Make use of other family members, even ones that don’t live in the house. There are professional resources available to you. Start with your primary care physician. There may be a medication that can help relieve depression and reduce your stress.

You might also consider joining a support group online such as:

There may be local groups, too.  Look at local, state, federal and nonprofit programs like the Administration on Aging and The National Council on Aging, for example. Go to BenefitsCheckup.org and make sure you are getting all the benefits your parents are entitled to, as well.

So, you are a member of the Sandwich Generation. You are not alone. Do what you have to and make this time a good one for your family.

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