The term “sandwich generation” was coined by social worker Dorothy Miller in 1981 to describe a new generation of women who were taking care of both their own children and one or both aging parents. Since then, the definition has broadened to include both men and women who are responsible for the wellbeing of and/or providing financial support to children (including adult children) and parents. Originally, the term was applied to Baby Boomers, but it is now applicable to Generation Xers as well. (Tarantine, 2014)
No matter how you slice it, our population is getting older. That, combined with the Great Recession, has put a squeeze on those caught between two struggling generations, while possibly struggling themselves. What happens to the caregivers who are taking care of everyone, most likely working, and facing their own retirement?
Finding yourself emotionally and financially responsible for your children, your parents and yourself can be overwhelming and often self-care is the first thing to go. Ruth Tarantine, nurse and patient advocate, says that these caregivers in particular, have to take care of themselves, because no one else is caring for them.
According to the Pew Research Center, sandwiched adults who provide financial assistance to both a dependent child and a parent are far less likely to report that they are “living comfortably” – 28% vs. 41% of adults who are not financially supporting an aging parent. In addition to financial support, people in the sandwich generation may provide help with day-to-day needs as well as emotional support for parents 65 and older. The older the parents are, the more likely this is to be the case. Not surprising is the finding that many in the sandwich generation report being pressed for time. (Parker and Patton, 2013)
Stress and frustration can easily take a toll when you feel pulled in too many directions all the time. When others are relying on you, however, it is important to keep your own health and wellbeing a priority.
- Ask for help
You can’t do it all, but once you get in the mode of doing it all, it’s difficult to let go of even some responsibilities. How often have you thought, “It’s easier to do it myself,” or “No one will do it as well as I do”? When caring for others, some things have to be done precisely, like dispensing or tracking medication, but very little has to be done perfectly, or just one way. Find some chores that you are willing to hand off to someone else, and then hand them off. Make a list of people you know are available to help out on short notice for those times you have a conflict or an emergency – or just need a break.
- Let go of guilt
Taking time for yourself is not selfish and it doesn’t mean you are doing a bad job of caretaking. Find time for pursuits that are relaxing, rejuvenating or are just fun, such as exercising, going to a movie, spending time with friends, and even spending time alone. When you are responsible for others, staying healthy, eating and sleeping well, and having some down time, is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
“A recent study involving 23 caregivers, most of whom were taking care of a family member with Alzheimer’s or other chronic medical conditions, found that over a two-month period, practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique helped to reduce the stress associated with caregiving,” reports Rick Nauert, PhD. Participants experienced improvement in “perceived stress, spiritual well-being, and mood.” They were less anxious and had improved energy levels. They also felt calmer and more resilient. (Nauert, 2016)
- Seek out professional resources
Senior Living Blog recommends contacting a local social worker, the Area Agency on Aging, or the U.S. Health and Human Services website, LongTermCare.gov, to help sort out the logistics of caring for children and senior parents at the same time. The blog also recommends working with a financial planner to help with budgeting. Do this ahead of time, in anticipation of caring for elderly parents, if possible. (Stevenson, 2015)
Looking on the bright side
Despite the pressures placed on the sandwich generation, there is a bright spot in the statistics. The Pew survey found that happiness rates for those in the sandwich generation are comparable to those who are not, despite their added burdens. Among adults caring for both children and parents, 31% say they are very happy with their lives, and 52% are pretty happy. Among adults not in the sandwich generation, 28% are very happy and 51% are pretty happy.
The time spent with extended family, particularly with parents nearing the end of life, can be enjoyable and many consider it a blessing. Including self-care as part of the plan will make it easier on everyone involved.
For more resources, information, or to see if therapy can help you manage stress and overwhelm, please contact Maria Droste Counseling Center’s Access Center at 303-867-4600.
Tarantine, R. (2014) The Sandwich Generation: Who is Caring for You? Huffington Post. Retrieved on August 9, 2016, from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ruth-tarantine-dnp-rn/baby-boomers-caregivers_b_5733782.html
Parker, K. and Patten, E. (2013) The Sandwich Generation – Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans. Pew Research Center. Retrieved on August 9, 2016, from: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/
Stevenson, S. (2015) Honoring Sandwich Generation Caregivers. The Senior Blog. Retrieved on August 9, 2016, from: https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/2013-07-02-honoring-caregivers-sandwich-generation-month/