If you’re in your forties or fifties and caring for, or financially providing for, both children and an aging parent or parents, you could be called a member of the “sandwich generation.” It can feel like a lonely place, but according to a study by the Pew Research Center, almost half of all American adults are in a similar situation. The same study showed that 15% of middle-age adults are providing financial support for both an aging parent and a child.
It isn’t just financial support, either. The Pew study said that nearly 40% of those in the sandwich generation also provided emotional support to both their aging parents, as well as their grown children. It’s a situation that can lead to significant sandwich generation stress.
What is the sandwich generation exactly?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled and analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey to arrive at a definition and common characteristics of the sandwich generation. Membership in the sandwich generation implies that you have simultaneous responsibilities to both children, either grown or in the home, and elderly parents.
They discovered some interesting facts about the sandwich generation:
- Nearly 80% spend at least 23 hours a week caring for aging parents or in-laws.
- About 30% spend 26 hours a week helping their children.
- A “sizable” group of women spends an average of 28 hours a week providing childcare, most likely for grandchildren.
- Members of the sandwich generation on average spend $10,000 a year helping their children and parents.
- 80% are spending money on their children other than college support and 70% are contributing money to their parents
- In total, sandwich generation caregivers spend about 1,350 hours a year helping their parents and grown children.
Statistics by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that, of the roughly 44 million unpaid elder caregivers in the U.S., 75% are also employed outside the home, adding workplace demands to the demands of the family.
With the responsibilities of work, children, and parents, is it any wonder that sandwich generation stress can make it difficult to cope?
How can I manage sandwich generation stress?
All this caregiving can definitely take a toll on your physical and emotional health. The CDC reports that 17% of sandwich generation caregivers rate their health as poor or fair compared to just 10% of those who are not caregivers. The CDC also noted that many employed caregivers were forced to make changes in their job situation to accommodate their family’s needs, including reducing hours at work, taking a leave of absence, or even changing jobs completely to a less demanding role. They estimated the cost in lost productivity to be about $34 billion in 2016.
If you are feeling sandwich generation stress, the CDC offers a few suggestions:
- If you want to stay in your current job, have a frank discussion with your employer and let him or her know your caregiving situation. Ask if there is flexibility in your work schedule, or even the possibility of working from home occasionally, so that you can remain productive while still caring for your family.
- Join a caregiver support group. Sharing your frustrations with others in the same situation can help relieve feelings of isolation and stress, and you may get some good suggestions for helping you manage your competing responsibilities.
- Look for support services within your community, such as adult day care or respite care, to help with an aging family member.
- Seek help from other family members. Let them know how they can pitch in with chores, shopping, and other activities around the home.
- Don’t neglect your own health. Try to eat a healthy diet, get enough rest, and exercise regularly. A walking buddy can be a great source of sandwich generation stress relief—you have someone to talk to and exercise with all at the same time.
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