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Yes, There’s Still a Sandwich Generation

When someone is still caring for a child under the age of 18 at home along with helping an elderly parent, they are considered part of the Sandwich Generation. While this description usually captures people in middle age, roughly in their 40s and 50s, it may also include people who are older or younger than this demographic. A more modern term is “multigenerational caregivers,” according to the Pew Research Center.

The latest data in 2018 found that 3 in 10 (or 29%) of adults in the United States have a child under age 18 at home, and 12% of these parents also provide support for an elder parent or other adult in their lives. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Pew Research Center found that these unpaid caregivers spend about 2.5 hours a day caring for their family members.

Parents—both mothers and fathers—spend more time with their kids than parents did in the 1960s, with mothers spending 40% more time with their children. Then there is also more time spent working at a paid job, with 72-78% of these multigenerational caregivers being employed.

Being a Sandwich

The term “sandwich generation” was coined in 1981 by a woman who found herself pressured on both sides of care while raising children and helping out her parents. “People feel they should have to do it all themselves and that’s the worst thing a caregiver can do,” said Carol Abaya, who founded the Sandwich Generation Magazine and then website.

She got live-in help for her parents that lasted for six years. “I was still the overseer and had a lot to do,” she said. “For some reason, the sandwich generationers fear that they have to do everything for their parents and shouldn’t ask for help—I have found that to be very prevalent.”

What Kind of Sandwich Are You?

Ms. Abaya went on to define different kinds of “sandwiches” or people that find themselves squeezed between care needs:

Traditional: This is what we all think of when we hear the term, “sandwich generation.” It refers to middle aged people who are between aging parents in need of some support and their own children who need support.

Club: Think of an extra generation of family that also needs some care—maybe grandchildren of your own—as well as the aging parents and grown children, and you get the idea of the club sandwich.

Open faced: This can refer to someone who does not have children of their own to care for, but does have elderly parents who require their support. These people have other responsibilities—primary relationships, work, etc.—that they need to tend to in addition to helping their parents.

No matter what type of sandwich you are, Ms. Abaya has some pearls of wisdom to help you maintain life balance and be prepared:

  1. Sit down and make a list of all the things your aging parent can do for themselves, all the things they may need help with, and all the things they can’t do at all. Next, make a list of all the family members in the area and community resources and start matching them up.
  2. Bring your children into the care process with your elder parent. If your kids are teenagers, they can go over and do small household chores like taking out the garbage. Maybe they can just watch TV with Grandpa or play some board games. Your children need your love too, not just your elder parents.
  3. Legal documents should be taken care of yesterday rather than tomorrow.
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