What is the “Sandwich Generation”? The term was coined in 1981 and defined women in their 30s and 40s who simultaneously cared for their children and the needs of their parents, friends, and employers. The term now refers to middle-aged Americans or Baby Boomers who provide time, energy and money to adult children while also providing time and labor-intensive care to aging parents.
How Many People are in the “Sandwich Generation”?
Today, 71 percent of people are between the ages of 40-59 years. Forty-seven percent of those people have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or providing financial support to an adult child (age 18 or older). The demands of caregiving and providing financial and emotional support are on the rise. Boomers are feeling rushed and pressed for time with all that they have to do, leaving no time to pursue things that they love to do. Financial, emotional, social and career well-being are impacted and strained.
What are the Challenges?
The stress and strain of managing and affording this role is profound as people attempt to balance complex circumstances. The ongoing nature of these demands is a risk factor for depression, anxiety and burn out. Boomers who are now in this caregiving role also struggle with feeling overwhelmed and guilty that they are not doing enough. Making decisions around health care, aging in place, assisted living, and other concerns for aging parents are just a few of the major issues that the sandwich generation is facing.
Self-Care is the Answer
Self-care is the best defense. We can create a “storehouse” of energy in order to be able to continue to serve others. Pace yourself, treat yourself well every day by establishing steady routines of good nutritious meals, exercise, sleep patterns, and incorporating some fun into your life, both at work and at home.
A few other necessities include: taking spontaneous stretch breaks, keeping the lines of communication open among all family members and asking for some help, setting healthy boundaries, practicing mindfulness and remembering that “laughter is the best medicine”….to get you through the hard times. Balancing what is realistic and doable is key to healthy functioning over time.
Is it possible to care for yourself amidst so many family demands?
Yes, it is and here a couple of recommendations. Give yourself permission to put some of your needs on the list of to do’s. Make your self-care a high priority and view it as an investment in your energy, health and overall capacity to serve. By building a storehouse of energy you will be a more effective caregiver.
Secondly, allow yourself to flex at times of high need or when unexpected demands that come up. Know that you will get back to your routines as the situation subsides.
It is so important to take time to recharge your battery even if it is only a 15-minute walk or sitting with a friend and chatting over a coffee, kicking back and reading a chapter from a favorite book. Seek professional support and consultation if need be. There are support groups and other possible resources for eldercare services through AARP and your local Area Agency on Aging in your county and through your employer or EAP. Another resource is: www.sandwichgeneration.org (Source: PEW Research Center, 2013).
Evy Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.