Are You In The Sandwich Generation?
April 27, 2022
Children Below. Parents Above. Stressed-Out Caregivers in the Middle.
In 1981, social worker Dorothy Miller coined the name “the sandwich generation”. The term describes adult children who are “sandwiched” between their aging parents and their own maturing children. Many people thought retirement would be a time to finally be free of responsibilities. Suddenly, they find themselves saddled with becoming caregivers and one of the most stressful times of their lives.
A Generation of Caregivers
Caregiving is the heart of the sandwich generation definition. And caregiving is a responsibility that can cost significant time and money. For example, of American adults who are caregivers for a parent and a child, nearly 80% invest a minimum of 23 hours per week of unpaid time caring for their parents or their in-laws.
In addition to that stunning statistic:
- 30% of caregivers also report spending an additional 26 hours per week helping their children
- Women in particular report additional childcare responsibilities—an average of 28 hours per week (presumably caring for grandchildren, but actual familial relationships were not specified)
- 70% reported also contributing financial support to parents
Caring for aging relatives and/or children simultaneously, in addition to tending to your own everyday responsibilities can cause chronic stress. The toll of these constant demands on a body, mind, and spirit can lead to physical, emotional, and mental consequences.
Three Ways Caregivers Can Cope with Chronic Stress
1. Maintain A Sense of Control
None of us control external events like weather, politics, or even whether the neighbor dog is barking all night long. But we can control our reactions to our situations and circumstances.
People who believe they control their own situations are less stressed and have better mental health. When you believe you have no control over outside forces, your stress levels are higher and caregiving is harder. The next time you feel controlled or trapped, ask for help, step away, make a call, or attempt to solve the problem step by step.
2. Your Own Support Network
The best defense against the stress you face as a caregiver is having others who care about your health.
Every caregiver needs support. The first source most of us have is from family and friends. These people can be great to talk to, take a respite from your responsibilities, or even enjoy some downtime with. Formal support groups are another option that many have been surprised to find so effective. Another option is alone time. Try a hobby like photography, taking tranquil hikes, or even baking a new recipe.
3. Your Own Physical Well-Being
Caregiving for a parent or an aging loved one comes with a unique double-edged sword. With all the time to take care of them, being able to maintain your own physical health is frequently neglected. The problem with that is caregiving has physical demands, including helping your loved one out of bed or a chair. The more you neglect your own fitness, nutrition, and rest, the more you’re setting yourself up for injury and illnesses.
Don’t forget to slow down. As every lifeguard is taught, to help others, your safety has to come first.
You are not alone! The majority of people facing the stresses of the sandwich generation are able to cope and succeed. A recent Pew research study found that 31% of sandwich generation members caring for two generations simultaneously reported they were “very happy”, and an additional 52% said they were “pretty happy.”
It may not be easy, but caregivers of the sandwich generation have proven they can overcome and solve the challenges they face – and wouldn’t trade the responsibilities for the world.
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