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The Sandwich Generation

The “Sandwich Generation” is a term that you may not have heard before. While at first blush, you may think it has something to do with french bread and mortadella, it actually refers to a more recent phenomenon, one that Merriam-Webster officially added to their dictionary in 2006.

The “Sandwich Generation” does not refer to a specific generational cohort the same way “Generation X” or “the Greatest Generation” does, but rather to middle-aged adults who care for both their own children and their elderly parents. As one can imagine, this recalls the filling “sandwiched” between two pieces of bread, hence the name.

There are many reasons adults can find themselves part of this generation. Either their kids are still minors and they take in their aging parents, or their kids themselves are part of the “Boomerang Generation” that moved back home after college due to the economic downturn. Whatever the reasons, over one in eight Americans between the ages of 40 and 70 are both caring for at least one parent and a child simultaneously. This is in addition to the nearly ten million adults caring for a parent from long-distance. As the Census Bureau projects the number of adults over age 65 to double to more than 70 million by the year 2030, the number of adults belonging to the Sandwich Generation will only increase.

Being pulled in multiple directions by the needs of their children and their elderly parents can put a multitude of stresses on members of the Sandwich Generation, both financial and emotional. The challenge of supporting three generations simultaneously, their children, themselves, and their parents, costs the Sandwich Generation an average of $10,000 and 1,350 hours annually. This can lead to problems such as caregiver burnout, trouble managing work, marital strife, and more.

It is important for adults finding themselves in this situation to take care balancing their obligations so that they do not find themselves struggling day to day. If the children are adults or nearing adulthood, shifting some of the elderly care tasks onto them can be a good way to avoid taking on too much. One could also consider moving elderly parents home to alleviate the time and financial burden of caring from a distance. In-home healthcare services can also offer a solution in the form of regular checkups on elderly parents and assistance in basic tasks and daily chores, as can assisted living facilities.

Adult caregivers belonging to the sandwich generation must also remember to take time for themselves. In providing care to both adults and children, it is easy to put one’s own needs on the backburner, until fatigue and stress compounds and results in burnout. Self-care, in the form of indulging in activities or hobbies that alleviate stress and provide enjoyment are critical. Making sure to eat healthfully, get adequate sleep, and schedule regular bouts of down-time are very important in ensuring that caregivers are able to continue providing quality care, while also preserving their own health.