Tips for Surviving in the Sandwich Generation

Middle-aged woman with her senior-aged mother

The sandwich generation defines a generation of adults who are caught between parenting their young or adolescent children, and at the same time, caring for their elderly parents.

Who Is the Sandwich Generation?

Carol Abaya, M.A., a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, head of the Sandwich Generation website, and recognized expert on this demographic, divides the sandwich generation into three categories with terms she coined to define each particular situation.

  1. Traditional
  2. Club Sandwich
  3. Open Faced

Traditional stands for your basic sandwich situation: People who are raising their children and caring for aging parents at the same time.

Club Sandwich represents people in their 50s or 60s who are caring for parents, children, and grandchildren. The club situation may also be when people in their 30s or 40s are raising their children, and caring for parents and grandparents.

Open faced means anyone else who is involved in caring for elderly individuals.

Statistics show that the majority of sandwiched individuals are around age 60. Experts indicate that more people than ever are caught caring for multiple generations.

The main reasons for this include:

  • Adults live longer now than they used to
  • The costs of starting a life, buying a house, marriage, children, have gone up to such high amounts that young adults can't often afford a self-sufficient life and move back in with their parents.

The article also noted, "In the year 1900, only 7 percent of Americans lived with at least one parent. Now, that number is 49 percent."

Challenges for Individuals Sandwiched Between Generations

For people providing care for both the young and old at the same time, the challenges can be overwhelming.

Basic Disruption

People in their 30s and 40s are in a time of progress. They settle down into productive careers. They might buy their first home, or get married. Also during this time, people start families, even while parents and grandparents may need care. It's everything all at once.

For individuals in their 50s, job satisfaction and reliability may be peaking and the thought of retirement is close enough to almost grab. These individuals may be looking forward to retirement, travel, and relaxation after years of raising children and working. When an aging parent needs care, all these plans are altered.

Other Issues

  • Monetary concerns: It's tough to pay your own bills. Then children come along. By the time parents need care, and you're providing for them financially as well, it gets to be a bit much. Some may find it difficult or nearly impossible to pay all your bills.
  • Stress: It's no surprise that blending so many people together can cause stress. The pressure of raising kids, caring for parents, maintaining a marriage or career, everyone's health-all these factors contribute greatly to stress.
  • Workplace issues: A study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and Metropolitan Life Insurance reports that 52 percent of individuals who care for others, such as parents and children, have at least some workplace problems based on providing that care. Some workplaces are not always accomodating to allow for time off to care for family.
  • Learning issues: There can be some steep learning curves when it comes to caring for children and ill or older family members. In some cases, health aids for seniors may be needed, or a professional health aide. An extra care provider not only costs money, but is one more person in the house, at least for some of the day. Some sandwiched adults face even tougher issues related to health, such as a parent with Alzheimer's Disease.

To learn more about the workplace challenges facing the sandwich generation read, Career Counseling for the Sandwich Generation.

For more on handling basic challenges read, Caring for Aging Parents and Children at the Same Time.

Solutions and Support for the Sandwich Generation

Financial author Dave Ramsey notes that the sandwich generation must learn to care for their own immediate financial situation before anyone else's. Ramsey reminds this generation that if you can't hold your own life together financially, you won't be able to sufficiently care for others. You should concentrate on your own bills first; specifically your home, which not only offers a roof over the whole family's head, but also a form of financial stability.

Other solutions and resources include:

  • Find local resources for support. There are national resources about caregiving that can point you in the right direction to find support ore even help you locate places like adult day care.
  • Keep family communication wide open. Talk issues out at weekly family meetings if possible.
  • Before your parents ever need to move in with you, make sure that they are preparing for the future. They should be saving money and planning for long-term health insurance.
  • Start saving now for college expenses and your retirement.
  • Control your debt.

Learn more about managing the challenges of being a member of the sandwich generation by reviewing Sandwich Generation: Survive the midlife tug of war.

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Tips for Surviving in the Sandwich Generation