Caring for your kids AND your parents
You've probably heard the phrase "The Sandwich Generation".
If you are caring for children at home, and are also caring for, or helping
to care for, an older adult, YOU are the sandwich generation, and you're
not alone. There is a growing segment of adults who care for both an older
adult and their own children. According to
Pew Research, in 2012, nearly half of adults had a parent 65+ and were raising a minor
child, and 15% provided financial support to a parent and child in previous year.
Aging and elder care expert Carol Abaya uses three different terms to describe the sandwich generation:
The Traditional Sandwich Generation — These are adults in their 40s and 50s who have elderly parents
and (usually) adult children, all of whom need some kind of financial
or other assistance.
The Club Sandwich Generation — These are older adults in their 50s and 60s who not only have aging
parents, they also have adult children and grandchildren. It can also
be used to describe younger adults in their 30s with children, aging parents
The Open Faced Sandwich Generation — Anyone involved in elder care (non-professionally), which is estimated
to be 25% of individuals at some point in their lives.
How did this happen?
A number of factors have played a role in the sandwich generation phenomenon.
First, we are living longer. Second, many adults are marrying later, and
also having children later. Third, for a variety of reasons, but often
financial, adult children are living at home longer, or returning home
Pros of Caregiving
- Foster closeness among family members
- Make caregiver feel good about ability to care for loved ones
Cons of Caregiving
- Stressful and exhausting
May compromise own health:
- Reduced time to invest in healthy behaviors, such as preparing healthy
meals, exercising, or relaxing
- Too focused on others’ needs to care for self
- Strain on personal, emotional, and financial resources
The good news is that adults in the sandwich generation
appear to be just as content with life as those who are not under the same pressures.
How to Cope
If you are in the sandwich generation, here are a few tips for you on how
to cope with your life situation:
Take care to prioritize your own retirement plan
Determine what you need to comfortably retire, then split the remaining
investable income bewteen accounts for your children's college and
your parents' care. In addition, your children can look for scholarships,
grants and loans to supplement what you are able to contribute. If you
don’t make your retirement savings a top priority, your children
could find themselves in a similar situation someday—worrying about how to help support you
Take care of yourself
When you're on an airplane, the preflight safety message cautions you
to put on your own oxygen mask during emergencies before helping others.
The same rule applies to caregiving. If you’re not healthy and rested,
you can’t take care of loved ones. You need to
eat healthy, with plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, while limiting fats
and sugars. Aim for 30 minutes a day of
exercise. It will release feel-good hormones that will help you cope with stress.
Schedule time to
relax, and try to get 8 hours of
sleep a night. Nothing will deplete your mental and physical reserves faster
than sleep deprivation!
Share the workload with other adults
Ask siblings to help with parent care. Even if they live far away, they may be able
to help financially or with phone calls or setting up appointments. Ask
other able-bodied family members to pitch in with
chores. Your 12-year old can do a load of laundry, and the 8-year old can load
and unload the dishwasher. Older children or adult children can help with
meal prep and housework. Consider hiring outside help for other things
such as a
maid service for heavy cleaning. Other family and friends can help provide
respite care to give you a break.
Whether you are caring for your parents full-time, providing housing for
adult children who are in need of assistance, or a combination of these,
communication among all parties is cruicial. Schedule
family meetings and
set expectations in advance. For example, if your adult children are moving home, be sure
to set some
ground rules ahead of time: Who will pay what expenses, do what chores, and so on.
Be cognizant of
potential stressors, knowing that moving into
your house means a loss of automy for both adult children and your aging parents.
Above all, try to keep a sense of humor, and give everyone chance to express
feelings and concerns.
Monitor stress levels
Look for signs of caregiver burnout, which may include sleeping too much
or too little, getting easily irritated or angered, substance abuse, feeling
overwhelmed, weight gain or loss, losing interest in activities, and feeling
worried or sad. Talk to a doctor if symptoms persist, and consider joining
a support group for caregivers.
The cost of long-term care is top challenge for seniors and their families.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has information at
National Alliance for Caregiving: