The term “sandwich generation” describes middle-aged adults who care for their children and parents at once. People in this position feel pressured in between two other generations in their care.
A 2013 study on the sandwich generation from the Pew Research Center found that “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). And about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15%) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.” The study also found that grown children required more financial and emotional support than aging parents, as 30% of 25-35-year-olds live with their middle-aged parents due to the poor economy since the Great Recession. They are sometimes called the “boomerang generation” for returning home after college.
Aging and elder care expert Carol Abaya divides the sandwich generation into three main demographics. “Traditional” describes adults in their 40s or 50s caring for their parents and children. “Club Sandwich” describes either adult in their 40s, 50s, or 60s who may also care for grandchildren, or adults in their 20s, 30s, or 40s who may also care for grandparents. “Open Faced” describes the estimated 25% of all adults who care for elderly relatives at some point in life. These models show that people can become part of the sandwich generation anytime between adulthood and retirement.
Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the number of Americans over 65 will double to 70 million by 2030. In other words, young adults who will have children in just over a decade may inherit the sandwich generation status from their retiring parents currently in it, who may themselves still need to lend their family financial support. The sandwich generation problem will not go away anytime soon, so all parties involved could benefit from knowing how to manage it.
If you are part of the sandwich generation or either slice of bread completing it, consider this article’s identification of the sandwich generation’s unique stressors and risks. The stress management advice afterward can show you how to reduce stress in your family’s budget and daily lives.
Stressors of the Sandwich Generation
Between the time and labor of caring for your elderly parents and the expenses of caring for children, being in the sandwich generation can put stress on your domestic and professional work alike. Domestic work includes cleaning, cooking, and physical and emotional support while professional work involves finances. Caring for two generations of family often puts people at risk of anxiety, depression, and burnout in their domestic work, and of losing opportunities or struggling to make ends meet in their professional work. While customs are changing, women still perform most domestic work and men most breadwinning; both find their free time limited.
The Pew Research Center study found that “when it comes to grown children, there is a link between financial and emotional support”, likely resulting from young adults’ own financial difficulties and record rates of anxiety and depression. They found that 43% of dependent grown children required frequent emotional support, as opposed to 24% of independent grown children. Grown children have difficulties becoming independent without a combination of encouragement and incentives, so parents have to balance both kinds of support so that their children feel neither unwelcome nor too welcome. This micromanaging can cause significant stress.
The Pew Research Center found that 78% of respondents expected to care for an aging family member at some point in their lives. They also found that 75% considered this a responsibility, more than the 52% who considered supporting grown children a responsibility. Because seniors may require physical support such as dressing and bathing, caring for them can significantly impact one’s schedule up to and including time off from work. By the age of 80, aging adults also require levels of emotional support close to those of dependent grown children. Being there for both becomes a balancing act.
Reducing Financial and Emotional Stress
Organizing your responsibilities between your parents, your children, and yourself is a challenging but ultimately necessary and rewarding task.
Dependent children benefit from advice on finding jobs and moving into adult responsibilities. With nearly limitless information available at their fingertips via the internet, today’s children and young adults know how to search but still need guidance on what to search. Having your grown children pay for their room and board once they start making a livable wage can ease them into independence, but do not rush them into moving out until they can pay their own rent. This would cause financial and emotional straits for all parties. Most importantly, use positive reinforcement; the boomerang generation’s financial and emotional needs are tied in such a way that confidence in the home leads to confidence in the professional world. This positive feedback loop ensures less stress for you and your children alike in the long term.
Your aging parents can also benefit from living in your home whenever it is the less expensive option. If you worry about a loss of job opportunities, check your employer’s human resources department to see if they offer time off, telecommuting, elder care referrals, back-up care, or even contact with a professional care manager. Outside the workplace, the Senior Living Link directory and others can reveal local, affordable, and stress-reducing options for assisted living and long-term care plans.
Once the above steps allow you to make time for yourself, use it to de-stress. Go for a walk, take up yoga, read a book, or do anything else that relaxes you. Eat and sleep well, and ask for help whenever necessary. You can makes schedules for your friends and family to help out with the small tasks that otherwise pile up. Bringing your children to see their grandparents can reduce stress for all, as it allows you to manage their needs at once with help from your parents’ and your children’s connection. If your children do inherit the leftovers of sandwich generation status, your example will at least prepare them. In the end, it will all be worth it; the bread slices are integral to any sandwich, and everyone savors the parts in-between.
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