If you’re in your thirties or forties, you could be a member of the sandwich generation. No, you’re not a ham and cheese on rye. What you do have is young children and aging parents and you’re in the middle, working and living every day. You’re the cheese that’s holding the two ends together.
Here’s the thing though: cheese goes bad if it’s left out of the refrigerator.
How did the sandwich generation happen?
Two reasons: more people are delaying having their kids until they’ve finished school and established careers and, at the same time, people are living longer thanks to improved healthcare.
There is another factor too: more adults are supporting their adult children than ever before. Blame the ‘sharing economy’ (think Uber) change to the work environment, but ultimately, many young adults don’t have steady, full time employment and are relying on the good grace of their parents to make do.
“According to a new nationwide Pew Research Center survey, roughly half (48%) of adults ages 40 to 59 have provided some financial support to at least one grown child in the past year, with 27% providing the primary support. These shares are up significantly from 2005.” (Source)
What’s the problem with being a member of the sandwich generation?
Stress. Financial hardship. Depression. These are issues that people who are in the middle of raising children and caring for their aging parents are dealing with, more so than the population at large.
Adults who are part of the sandwich generation—that is, those who have a living parent age 65 or older and are either raising a child under age 18 or supporting a grown child—are pulled in many directions. Not only do many provide care and financial support to their parents and their children, but nearly four-in-ten (38%) say both their grown children and their parents rely on them for emotional support. (Source)
Since most people in the sandwich generation are also employed, there is an impact to their work and their employer:
“...the majority (61 percent) of employed caregivers need to make some workplace accommodations such as coming in late to work or leaving early, taking time off to manage care situations, reducing work hours or level of responsibility, and/or taking a leave of absence. All of these accommodations have potential costs associated with them for both the caregiver and the employer.” (Source)
What are the best ways to cope with being in the sandwich generation?
Leverage your assets! You have kids who are likely tech savvy and you have parents who might not be. Why not put the two together? If you live in the same home, your kids can help your parents figure out their phones or the PVR. They can show them some of the ‘cooler’ apps and, in this way, spend time together (which is an upside) and at the same time, give you a break! If you don’t live in the same home with your parent(s), you can set your kids up to Skype or FaceTime with them, again, giving them that connection to their grandparents, giving your parents some time with their grandchildren and giving you time to sip your coffee, while it’s still hot.
Share your experience. If your employer isn’t aware of your situation, tell them! Many companies have flexible working arrangements and perhaps that’s what you need to make managing the various aspects of your life just that little bit easier! Another way to get some help is by joining a support group. There are many out there precisely for people like you, who are juggling kids and parents, work and marriage. It’s a lot to undertake, so sometimes what can be most helpful is to talk with others who have a shared experience!
Good is good enough. Lowering your standards and expectations when you are in the middle of trying to manage care for two other generations is healthy. If you have a to do list with 20 items on it and you only get half of them done, see that as a win! You have to come to terms with the notion that good is good enough.
Get help. There is this sense that caregivers, women in particular, need to do it all. But you aren’t a superhero, despite your best efforts. The stress of being in the sandwich generation can lead to health problems, both mental and physical. Before you get to that point, make sure you have some time to yourself, or your spouse. Get some respite care, particularly if you are dealing with an older parent who needs continual care, or a child with a disability who needs the same. Take the time to smell the roses: you’ll come back stronger and happier if you do!
What’s most important about being a family is helping one another, to the best of your abilities. But when those capacities get stretched too far, it’s time to ask for help. If you have any questions about respite care, how it works and if it’s right for you, give us a call!