Self-Care for the ‘Sandwich Generation’
One person called it “a crushing weight.” Others call it exhausting, overwhelming and complicated. Those and many other words describe the caregiving challenges of the “sandwich generation.” But there is a flip side. At least one study has shown that family caregivers in this situation are about as satisfied, or even more satisfied, with their lifestyles as other adults.
Who is this generation, and why are they being compared to a sandwich? The sandwich generation describes the growing number of adults who are caring for both their own families and for their parents. “As people are living longer and many young adults are struggling to gain financial independence, about a quarter of U.S. adults (23%) are now part of the so-called ‘sandwich generation,’” reports Juliana Menasce Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. “These are adults who have a parent age 65 or older and are either raising at least one child younger than 18 or providing financial support to an adult child.”
In the U.S., “Men and women, as well as adults across racial and ethnic groups, are about equally likely to be in the sandwich generation,” Horowitz adds. And more than half of all Americans in their 40s are in this situation.
An article from the BBC, in the U.K., reports that around the world, “Sandwiched individuals, who may or may not be living with the people they’re supporting, look a bit different. In the Philippines, sandwiched women tend to be aged 30 to 35, whereas in England and Wales they’re typically between 45 and 54 ...”
Surprisingly, in the U.S., more of these caregivers (48%) say they’re satisfied with their family life than other adults (43%), as another Pew survey reported. That may be due to the many documented benefits of caregiving, especially family caregiving. What’s more, the BBC article notes: “Being embedded within multigenerational responsibilities also carries benefits. In particular, healthy grandparents can be a huge boon to working parents.” Plus: “Older parents facilitating especially younger women to stay in the labour market and become more senior and progress is a very important dimension of the sandwich generation.”
But make no mistake: Caring for one’s own children while helping a parent (or two) negotiate their specific health challenges can be daunting—emotionally, physically and financially.
The sandwich generation faces unique challenges, caught between the needs of two other generations. Here are some ideas for self-care that may help.
Set boundaries: Sometimes, it’s essential to draw clear lines to protect your personal space and time. This can apply to both children and aging parents.
Get financial counseling: Money matters can get complex. Whether it’s planning for your children’s college tuition, your retirement, or elder care expenses, professional financial advice can be invaluable.
Ask your siblings or other relatives for help: “Approach caregiving conversations with as much patience and grace as possible,” advises Mental Health America, “and let your other family members know that their help is both wanted and needed.”
Educate your kids: Make sure your children understand the reasons you’re stretched thin. When kids are aware of the sacrifices and the challenges, they’re often more empathetic and cooperative.
Reevaluate periodically: As time goes on, your children’s needs, your parents’ health, and your personal situation will change. Regularly take a step back to assess and adjust.
Seek legal advice: Ensure all the necessary documents, like living wills, powers of attorney, or advance directives, are in place. An elder law attorney or geriatric care manager can help navigate these areas.
Plan for your own future: Consider the hopes you have for your own old age. Investing time now in planning for your elder years can ease the burden on your children.
Celebrate small wins: Taking care of two generations can often mean neglecting personal achievements. Take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate small victories.
Stay connected with peers: Keeping a connection with friends or colleagues who are not involved in caregiving can provide a fresh perspective and a mental break.
Document precious moments: Capture stories, recipes, life lessons, and memories from your parents. It can be therapeutic for them, informative for your kids, and a cherished legacy for the future.
Know when to let go: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you might need to consider alternative care options for your parents, like assisted living. Remember, it’s about ensuring the best care for your parents, even if you’re not providing it directly.
Grieve fully and seek support: When a parent passes away, allow yourself to grieve. Grief is complex, and the feelings can intensify when you’re also attending to your own family’s needs.
The challenges faced by the sandwich generation are significant, but with the right strategies, it’s possible to navigate them with grace and tenacity. Remember, it’s essential to prioritize self-care, seek support when needed, and recognize the incredible strength and resilience that comes with this unique role.
Right at Home can help alleviate some of the pressure by providing respite care for your loved ones when you need a break from caregiving. Use our office locator to contact the office nearest you for more information.