By: Maribeth Stein, Co-Owner Senior Life Consulting
We all have friends who are completely overwhelmed because they are caring for children at the same time as serving as primary caregivers for their parents. This may be you. You are constantly exhausted and cannot remember the last time that you actually had a moment to yourself. Congratulations, you are a proud member of the Sandwich Generation!
In 1981 Dorothy Miller defined adult children of the aging ages 49-65, responsible for raising their children as well as providing physical, emotional, and often financial support for aging parents as the “Sandwich Generation”1. In fact, according to Pew Research, nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). In addition, about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15%) are providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.2
Although this term does not refer to any particular gender, women are often the primary caregivers for their children as well as their parents. This creates a tremendous amount of stress, because if you consider this dual caregiver role often combined with a full or part-time job, the responsibility is overwhelming, even for Wonder Woman! Women are raised to believe that they should just handle what they are given, not complain, refuse help, and accomplish all tasks without letting anyone see them sweat. Well, if you show me someone who can handle all of this without finding herself on the verge of a breakdown, she is either lying or living on a river that I like to call denial!
Aside from giving this generation a name, what can we do about it? First off, acknowledge that it exists and if you find yourself a member of the Sandwich Generation, know you are not alone! One reason some women seem better equipped to survive these incredibly stressful situations is that they are able to ask for help. They develop networks of support that help them feel less isolated. It is natural to feel overwhelmed when faced with new situations, which require expertise you do not possess, but it is critical to know how to use your community to locate resources that will increase your ability to understand how to handle these new challenges.
I am going to focus on caring for aging parents because not only is it my area of expertise, it is an area that makes most of us feel uncomfortable. It is truly a balancing act to know how to provide support to an aging parent without taking away their independence. In our business, we call it finding the sweet spot between autonomy and security. You want to provide support without taking over entirely. The important thing is to open up a dialog with your loved ones so that you truly understand their needs and wishes. It is easy to look at someone who forgets to take medication and jump immediately to thinking that they are no longer able to live alone. My friend calls this going straight to awful. There are many supports available to older adults living at home and often a combination of assistive technology and homemaker assistance will be enough to take care of a situation for now. These transitions are never easy, but if you have a plan then everyone is on the same page. When you are aware of loved one’s goals and priorities, you can make decisions with their wishes in mind. It provides great comfort knowing that you have a silent partner and that you are not flying solo.
The most important advice for a woman who finds herself in the middle of the proverbial sandwich is to believe in and practice self-care. Whether you are caring for children, you parents, or both it is important to remember the rule of taking care of the caregiver first so that you have the health and energy to take care of everyone else. Doesn’t every flight attendant tell you to put on you oxygen mask first and then tend to your children? Listen, it’s great advice!
So what are the take aways?
- Don’t overreact
- Make sure you understand you’re loved one’s need and wishes
- Get help from an expert when you need it
- Take care of the caregiver first; that means you!
1Miller, Dorothy A. (1981). The 'sandwich' generation: adult children of the aging, Social Work, Vol 26, No 5 (September 1981), pp.419-423.
2 Parker, K. and Patten, E. The Sandwich Generation Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans. The Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/01/30/the-sandwich-generation/s