It’s a Tuesday morning and you’re sitting at your desk. Your coffee is still hot, almost all of your emails from the previous day have been opened and you’re prepping for your afternoon meeting. Then, in a matter of minutes, a call from the school nurse comes through. Your child is sick and needs to be picked up immediately. As you coordinate those plans, the doctor’s office calls to remind you of your mother’s 2:30 pacemaker appointment for later that day, one that may have slipped your mind. If this scenario, in any variation of it, sounds familiar, you are in what researchers call the “Sandwich Generation.”
The Sandwich Generation can be defined as individuals aged 40 to 59 to who are responsible for raising children while caring for the needs of their parents. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that roughly one out of every eight Americans falls within this category. I’m all too familiar with helping individuals, particularly women, handle the day to day stresses of being a dual caregiver. As women stuck in the Sandwich Generation, the dueling lifestyles can create a number of psychological, emotional and financial stresses. Here are a few:
- Though men can be in the Sandwich Generation, families are more likely to adopt the “efficiency mentality.” This is the belief that since women are already taking care of children, taking care of aging parents may not seem as big a burden to add on. This mentality grossly underestimates the resources and time necessary to handle both responsibilities.
- One major factor that has played a role in the steady growth of the Sandwich Generation is that many couples are delaying the point at which they choose to start a family. This is in large part due to the ever-changing economic climate and student loan debt. Women are working to become more established in their careers and financially secure before starting a family.
- Single mothers are increasingly becoming the dominant demographic of the Sandwich Generation in comparison to married mothers.
- Advances in the medical field have increased life expectancy, allowing aging parents the ability to live longer and healthier lives. This means more resources are necessary to sustain living. Societal expectations of women caregivers in conjunction with the economy driving women to work have created emotionally and psychologically draining ‘round-the-clock lifestyles for women within the Sandwich Generation.
- It is very common for women in the Sandwich Generation to experience feelings of depression, anxiety and other symptoms of emotional distress because of worries about outlook for elderly parents, themselves and their own children.
- The needs of the caregiver within the Sandwich Generation often go unaddressed, creating personal issues in areas such as health and finance.
- Despite the negatives, it is possible for the Sandwich Generation to meet the demands of child, parent and self. This comes through support networks, communication, prioritization and respite care.
- A positive that comes from Sandwich Generation is the familial bond created – strengthening the bond between elderly parent and adult children. Grandchildren get to know their roots by being with their grandparents more.
- Planning, organization and communication are three main skills that help those women within the Sandwich Generation to balance the constant needs of both children and parents.
Are you in the Sandwich Generation? Share your issues, knowledge, struggles and suggestions below. Mabel Yiu is a licensed marriage and family therapist with Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.