Are you a member of the Sandwich Generation?
According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of adults between
ages 40 to 59 who are “sandwiched” between caring for their
own children and elder parents is growing. In 2005 45% of adults in this
age bracket found themselves in the middle of these generations and by
2012 it was 47%--nearly 50% of adults.
The sandwiching comes from pressure on both sides—a need for financial
or physical support. The Pew Research Center Survey showed that as of
2012, 48% of middle aged parents were providing some or primary support
for a child over 18 years of age and 21% had provided financial support
for a parent over the age of 65 in the past year (a slight increase from 2005).
There is an overwhelming sense of family responsibility when an elderly
parent needs financial support or help with day to day living. This survey
showed 75% of respondents felt they had an obligation to provide financial
assistance to an elderly parent in need and 52% felt the same way about
providing the same to a grown child.
It’s worth noting that researchers stated half of adults age 60 or
older with a living parent stated that their parent needs help with day-to-day
living. This includes emotional support, not just financial support.
Takes One to Know One
The term “sandwich generation” was coined in 1981; then Carol
Abaya, a family caregiver and journalist, trademarked the term and started
the Sandwich Generation Magazine to give advice to people like her. Although
the sandwich generation at one time referred primarily to the Baby Boom
generation, it doesn’t only refer to a single generation.
“In my case, I had my parents and I had raised my two nieces,”
said Ms. Abaya, who still has a
website devoted to this topic. “Then my nieces each got married and had
babies, but one of them needed to be on bedrest.” Ms. Abaya went
from covering world conflicts to taking over her mother’s real estate
business and driving to care for her niece all at the same time.
However, Ms. Abaya quickly saw she could not do it all herself. “This
is the dilemma,” she said. “People feel they should have to
do it all themselves and that’s the worst thing a caregiver can
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 reasons, 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Legal documents should be taken care of yesterday rather than tomorrow.
Ultimately, Ms. Abaya advises that people not wait until there is a crisis
before taking action. “The meat of the sandwich is the caregiver
that holds everything together,” she said.