Managing ‘Sandwich Generation’ Stress


Last Updated on September 21, 2021

If you are raising children, or paying for financially dependent adult children while also helping your aging parents financially or emotionally, you are part of the so-called sandwich generation. It’s often people in their 40s and 50s who have the dual responsibilities, leaving little time left for themselves. 

The term became so commonplace, it was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2006. However, the definition fails to mention the financial and emotional stress on this group of caregivers. 

Aging and elder care expert Carol Abaya groups the sandwich generation into three categories: 

  1. Traditional sandwich generation. Adults in their 40s or early 50s sandwiched between aging parents and dependent children who both need assistance. 
  1. Club sandwich generation. Adults in their 50s or 60s wedged between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren. This can also be younger adults in their 30s or 40s with younger children, aging parents, and elderly grandparents. 
  1. Open-faced sandwich generation. Any adult involved in caring for someone older than they are, such as a parent, grandparent or even unrelated person. 

If you are a part of the sandwich generation, you are not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half (47%) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are simultaneously either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child. About 15% of middle-age adults are providing financial support to parents and children. 

According to the latest Census, in the next 30 years, the number of adults older than 65 will nearly double, and the number of adults older than 85 will triple to 19 million. At the same time, adult children are moving back in with their parents at record numbers. 

In a recent report conducted by Age Wave and Merrill Lynch, it was determined that 79% of parents are helping their adult children financially by paying for things such as cell phone bills, car insurance, and weddings. Collectively, parents are spending double what they are putting toward their retirement. 

Sandwich-generation parents also spend an average of three hours a day on caregiving duties. Between the financial burden and emotional stress, it can be expensive and exhausting. 

So how do you manage? Here are a few tips for managing what, at times, may feel like an impossible feat: 

Ask for help 

With no time and little money, it’s easy to feel frazzled and frustrated. It’s OK to ask siblings to help with costs, hands-on care, or spending time with your parents. Tasks can be delegated among family members or even part-time, hired professionals. Ask your adult children to pay rent or pitch in for groceries. Helping with household chores can give parents a break from making dinner and cleaning and make more time for meaningful activities. 

It’s also OK ask for professional help when you feel overwhelmed. If support from family and friends doesn’t improve your stress level, maybe it’s time to talk to a psychologist. There are plenty of therapy options online, so you can meet without even leaving home. Sometimes the only way to address the emotions behind your worry, or change unhealthy behaviors, is with a professional. 

Get organized 

Identifying your stressors and recognizing how you deal with them is a good first step in coping. Use that information to put together a family plan to alleviate some of the pressure on you. 

  •  A monthly family meeting could give you an opportunity to explain what is going on and how you need help in the next four weeks. 
  • Taking tasks off your plate can lighten the load and help others feel useful. 
  • Try a shared calendar or spreadsheet to get everyone on the same page. Also, there are several apps designed specifically for caregivers: MealTrain organizes meal drop-offs and MyMeds lets you schedule medication reminders via text. 
Prepare and save 

Preparing for financial challenges means putting money into a savings account. That is difficult when you are spending money on children and parents. Restructuring retirement plans is becoming a necessity for the sandwich generation in order to account for not only their own unexpected obstacles, but those of their kids and parents. Involve your children and parents in conversations about money. Talk with your aging parents’ financial advisor about budget goals and milestones. Look for ways to save money by signing up for recurring prescriptions or utilizing Meals on Wheels. Openly communicating about money is a terrific opportunity to impart financial values, priorities, and behaviors that can help your kids make better financial decisions in the future. 

Take care of you: The importance of Me Time 

Caregivers must get past the feeling of guilt that creeps up when spending time doing things for themselves. It’s not selfish to carve out time away from your caregiving duties. Even things like eating right, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and exercising, matter. Go to yoga class, play in a weekly softball game, read a book, or visit a friend. When you feel refreshed, you’ll be ready to take on that full calendar with renewed energy.

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