Issues facing the sandwich generation
In my previous columns, I have written a lot about the younger and older generations and how they can better understand and interact with each other.
But there is another generation that I have not discussed before that very much deserves to be recognized: the sandwich generation.
The sandwich generation is so named because members of that generation are the “filling” between the younger and older generations. As such, they must balance the responsibilities of caring for their children as well as their aging parents, which has the capability to be quite challenging. After all, juggling work, marriage, childcare, and parental care combine to create a rather long to-do list.
“These kinds of stressors contribute to mental health problems and physical problems, such as hypertension, overeating, being too busy to exercise, and simply not attending to [one’s] own needs,” said Claudia Fine, former executive vice president and chief professional officer at the professional geriatric care management company, SeniorBridge.
A personal experience
I have seen in the context of my own family how members of the sandwich generation attempt to balance their equally pressing responsibilities of care for their children and parents.
My mother made time to attend my school functions and help me with math homework only to race over to check on my grandparents’ condominium while they were away on vacation or to visit my grandfather in the hospital when he was sick.
At the same time, she was swamped with work and needed to care for her own needs.
“I am fortunate,” my mom admitted to me, “that even though I am in the sandwich generation, grandma and grandpa are relatively healthy and you are not a little kid; you’re independent.
“What’s hard is that you are not driving, so I have to manage my schedule and your schedule and get you where you need to be. When there is an issue with grandma or grandpa, it can be very difficult to deal with.”
She continued, “The biggest issue on top of all that is that I am an only child and I don’t have siblings to share the load. So, I have to make sure that if I go to the hospital to be there for my dad or help grandma, that you are covered. I can’t be in multiple places at once, and that’s hard.”
Not entirely a new problem
My grandmother can relate to my mother because she remembers being pulled in different directions, too.
“When your mom was little, I was in the middle dealing with her and my parents. When my parents got older, it became harder to keep that balance.
“The tricky part comes when both ‘pieces of bread’ are needy at the same time. You end up having to prioritize, and sometimes that’s really challenging.
Then you may also be working, so you’ve got your kids, work and parents that you’re forced to juggle. When everybody needs you…that’s the tough part.”
She also commends my mom for handling her role as the caregiver so well. “Your grandfather and I have always been made to feel that we are important. Your mother recognizes that we can be independent, yet when we need help, she’s available,” she said.
Coping with the stress
With all of this responsibility and, at times, stress, it is essential that members of the sandwich generation accept help from siblings, significant others, professional caretakers, doctors, etc. to manage the care of parents and children.
Fine, of SeniorBridge, suggested that if individuals of this generation feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, they should seek the counseling of an eldercare professional to reduce stress and improve care for their parents.
“A geriatric care manager looks at the entire constellation of factors that contribute to problems and stressors, and considers each individual’s assets and strengths…and can link you to the right resources, and ultimately partner with you to coordinate them,” Fine said.
It’s also important to proactively consider potential aging-related problems. For example, grown children could hire a professional to do a home assessment to decrease the likelihood of an older parent tripping, have someone manage a parent’s medication, arrange an automatic bill payment system, etc.
You and a younger buddy can brainstorm about ways to lighten the load for others in your families. Don’t resist working with professionals who could devise ways to alleviate some of the pressure your sandwiched caregiver feels.
Not only will it benefit you, it will allow those struggling to manage care of kids and parents to take a breath.
Most importantly, however, you and your younger friend can express appreciation for the help and devotion of the busy people in your life. Take the time to show your gratitude for all that they do to be the filling that holds your family sandwich together.
Alexis Bentz is a 12th-grade student at Thomas Wootton High School in Rockville, Md. This is the sixth year she has been writing this intergenerational column for Beacon readers.