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Are You Part of The Sandwich Generation?

Whether they know it or not, many Baby Boomers belong to the “sandwich generation.” This doesn’t refer to what they eat for lunch. It’s about their situation, sandwiched between caring for their children and their parents at the same time. To be sure, these caregivers deal with a variety of stresses, but they enjoy unique satisfaction as well.

These busy people aren’t a small group—there are more than 50 million sandwich caregivers in the U.S. About 70 percent of them are between 41 and 59 years of age and 20 percent are under 40. According to the Pew Research Center, sandwich caregivers are as likely to be men as women.

Relentless Demands
They all have one thing in common: They’re busy caring for family members from dusk till dawn.

“When someone must care for themselves, their children and aging parents at the same time, it becomes difficult to juggle everything at once,” says Kristine Bertini, Psy.D., a psychologist at the University of Southern Maine and author of Strength for the Sandwich Generation: Help to Thrive While Simultaneously Caring for Our Kids and Our Aging Parents. “One example is the situation that a sandwich caregiver faces in the morning. They have to get children ready for school, give attention to their husband or wife, and care for parents living with them. It’s a very demanding life.”

Those demands don’t just cause physical fatigue. There is also emotional stress. “These caregivers, most of whom are in their 40s and 50s, previously thought that at that age, they’d have their lives to themselves,” says H. Michael Zal, psychiatrist and author of The Sandwich Generation: Caught Between Growing Children and Aging Parents. “But suddenly they find that their kids still need them, but in different ways than before, and their aging parents ask them for help with their daily lives, even with things like managing their finances. These caregivers can also be faced with an additional financial burden. They can feel ‘stuck’ in this situation and resentful because of it.”

If the all-consuming pressures of caregiving aren’t recognized and managed, sandwich caregivers can run into marital conflicts, depression, poor performance on their jobs, strained relationships with family members, isolation from friends and little time for social activities.

Reasons for Hope
sandwichBut it’s far from a hopeless situation. With the right combination of insight, planning and communication, a sandwich caregiver’s hectic life can be made more manageable. Here are some tips from the experts:

Lasting Fulfillment
The role of sandwich caregiver is relentlessly demanding, but it can also be extremely rewarding. In addition to giving their children valuable family experiences, many sandwich caregivers benefit from the opportunity to care for parents who, much earlier in life, cared for them.

“In this situation, elderly family members are dependent on their children, so sandwich caregivers can rebuild relationships with their parents and experience deeper emotional intimacy with them,” says Bertini. “A sandwich caregiver’s parents can be more willing to express their emotions and allow close relationships to flourish. Also, involving grandchildren in caring for their grandparents not only distributes the workload, it develops a multigenerational bond in the family that can be profound, uplifting and enduring.”

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