Are you a part of the sandwich generation?

Clinical Expertise

Oct 1, 2020

Author: Laura Wootan, Marketing Specialist for Aging Services
Last Updated: July 19, 2021

Are you a mother or father taking care of young children and an aging parent?

I met Selah about four years ago at my local salon. She was one of the stylists there. She had one toddler already and another one on the way. Her husband was a roofing contractor. Through further conversations and visits, I found out that her mother-in-law lives with them due to her declining health.

“My life changed overnight,” she said. “I went from watching my son grow, changing day-by-day as he becomes an independent little boy and preparing for our next little one while now watching my mother-in-law rapidly decline.”

Selah is one of the many adults that fall in what’s called, the Sandwich Generation. A study in 2017 by Pew Research Center shows that one in 10 adults with a child under 18 is also caring for an aging parent.

It also states that these caregivers spend about three hours a day on unpaid care. Nearly three quarter of them are employed full-time. That’s 21 hours a week of caregiving on top of a 40-hour job.

About 60% of sandwich generation caregivers are women. Male and female caregivers spend about the same amount of time of day caring for their aging parents, but mothers, on average, spend about 45 minutes or more daily on child care, regardless of employment status.

Sandwich generation caregivers spend an average of 86 minutes less a day on paid work, and nearly half an hour less sleeping.

Some adults will spend many years as a sandwich generational caregiver, while others may only be a brief overlap. In Selah’s case, she could be considered a part of the sandwich generation for many years.

Long-term sandwich caregiving is becoming increasingly common as the population ages. Increased life expectancy, coupled with financial insecurity means many seniors require family care. At the same time, millennials are having children later than their baby boomer and Generation X parents, leading to more multi-generational households.

All of this can increase stress levels exponentially. By identifying triggers, you can manage your stress, practice self- care and find out how to ask for support.

How can you manage the stress?

First, let’s find what the identifying stressor is? What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships or something else?

How are you dealing with the stress? Are you using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress of supporting your children and parents, and is this specific to certain events or situations? Put things in perspective—make time for what’s really important. Prioritize and delegate responsibilities. Identify ways your family and friends can lessen your load so that you can take a break. Delay or say no to less important tasks.

Next, let’s find healthy ways to manage the stress. Consider healthy, stress-reducing activities—taking a short walk, exercising or talking things out with friends or family. Keep in mind that unhealthy behaviors develop over time and can be difficult to change. Focus on changing only one behavior at a time.

Make sure to take care of yourself. Eat right, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and engage in regular physical activity like walking or yoga. Keep in contact with your friends and family members. No matter how hectic life gets, you need to take care of yourself—which includes making time for yourself—so you have the mental and physical energy to care for your parents and children.

Lastly, ask for professional support. Accepting help from supportive friends and family can improve your ability to persevere during stressful times. If you continue to be overwhelmed by stress or the unhealthy behaviors you use to cope, you may want to talk with a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your worries, better manage stress and change unhealthy behaviors. One can also find temporary help in the form of an adult day care center and in assisted living communities that have respite/short-term stays. Brief breaks that allow you to reset and recharge can give you the energy that you need to tackle the day’s events.

“Mothers often put their family needs first and neglect their own,” says psychologist Katherine Nordal, PhD, executive director for professional practice, American Psychological Association. “The worry of your parents’ health and your children’s well-being, as well as the financial concern of putting kids through college and saving for your own retirement, is a lot to handle. Mothers need to manage their stress for their own health benefits and also for those around them. How a mother manages stress is often a model for the rest of the family. Other family members will imitate her unhealthy behavior.”

References: A Place for Mom, American Psychological Association

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