Life in the Sandwich Generation…Yes, That Could be You!

Rachel W. of Glendora, CA. feels the squeeze. She works, raises her two young children, and with the assistance of her husband, cares for her 93-year-old blind grandmother, who came to live with the family a year ago.

Life in the Sandwich Generation…Yes, That Could be You! Image

While Rachel says, “The joys include modeling love and respect for our elders to our two young children,” she also reflects, “patience is sometimes a struggle.” Rachel is a member of the Sandwich Generation: middle-aged people who care for both aging parents and their own children at the same time.

According to the Pew Research Center, about one-in-seven middle-aged adults provides financial support to both an elderly parent and a child. Nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent over the age of 65 and are raising children under the age of 18, or are financially assisting adult children.

By 2030, when it’s estimated that 20% of the U.S. population will be over age 65, with similar statistics in the U.K., the Sandwich Generation will feel the squeeze tighten. While caring for elderly relatives and young children simultaneously is certainly not a new phenomenon, the Sandwich Generation carries a particularly heavy burden, as a difficult economy around the world has led to far greater numbers of adult children relying on their parents for financial and emotional assistance.

Though there are undeniably difficulties when life comes at you from both ends, there are also unexpected joys and benefits to be found. As Rachel W. says, “It is character building for my children when they assist in caretaking by clearing their great grandma's dishes, etc. As a family, it is rewarding to include Grandma in the goings on of a bustling household, including school music concerts, birthday parties, family dinners and discussions on what kids are learning in school.” And the benefits work both ways: Rachel’s grandmother enjoys being a close and constant part of the family, sharing in their daily ups and downs.

Diana L. is another member of the Sandwich Generation. In the past year, she helped her 79-year-old mother and 80-year-old father move into an assisted living facility near her home in Richardson, Texas in the United States. Diana credits her very supportive husband, understanding children and helpful brother for easing her parents’ move into the facility, along with the sale of their home. Diana acknowledges that caring for her parents was not easy in the beginning: “I used to get very uptight and frustrated with everything that I had going on in my life – I kept wondering…”Why me?” Eventually, she realized she needed to relax and let go, trusting that she was doing what was best for her parents and her children. Diana also notes that helping her parents provides a strong message to her children, saying, “I try to stay very patient with my parents because my children see my every move and I want to be a good role model for them in caring for the aged – plus I want them to be nice to me when I am older!”

Both Diana L. and Rachel W. acknowledge that two of the most difficult aspects of life in the sandwich are the demands on their time and the occasional feelings of guilt that they are perhaps shortchanging their children, their parents or their spouses. These are common concerns among those caring for aging parents, especially when the caregiver is not as fortunate as Diana and Rachel in having family support. But while few are likely to claim that caring for an aging parent is always easy, there are certainly benefits as well. For many children, knowing that they are returning the loving care mom or dad once bestowed upon them is enough. For others, the benefits come from bringing the family together, in teaching their children to treasure their elders and in knowing that their parents are cared for by those who love them the most: their children.