What is the Sandwich Generation?

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
06/19/23  8:00 AM PST
multigenerational family at home. Black grandmother in wheelchair talking with two toddler granddaughters who are sitting on their mother's lap. Sandwich generation.

The term “sandwich generation” refers to middle-aged adults, ranging from their 30s-60s, who are caring for aging parents and caring for their own children (and/or grandchildren) at the same time. These caregivers are effectively “sandwiched” between the obligation to care for their aging parents — who may be ill, unable to perform various tasks, or in need of financial support — and their children/grandchildren, who also require financial, physical, and emotional support.

Approximately one in ten parents are sandwich caregivers. A combination of both increasing lifespans and family planning (having and raising children) at an older age have contributed to the growing sandwich generation phenomenon. How much care do they provide? According to a Pew Research Center study, in addition to their full-time working hours, sandwich caregivers spend approximately three hours daily caring for their parents and children.

Demographics of The Sandwich Generation

Those in the sandwich generation typically fall into the following categories:

Traditional Sandwich Generation (three generations): This term refers to adults typically in their 40s or 50s who are sandwiched between their elderly parents and their children who both need financial or other assistance.

Club Sandwich Generation (four generations): This term refers to adults typically in their 50 or 60s who are wedged between aging parents, their adult children, and possibly grandchildren. This term can also refer to younger adults in their 30s or 40s who have younger children, elderly parents and aging grandparents.

Open-Faced Sandwich Generation (eldercare only): Anyone who’s non-professionally involved in elder care, which is an estimated 25% of individuals at some point in their lives.

Financial Burdens of the Sandwich Generation

A Pew Research Center study estimated that about one in seven Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 are simultaneously providing financial assistance to children/grandchildren and at least one parent. With the additional pressures of managing their careers and their households, saving for their own retirement, and navigating personal issues, those of the sandwich generation are under significant financial and emotional stress. In some cases, sandwich caregivers are postponing their own retirements because of the financial stress.

With more adult children returning home to live with parents after college, or doing so throughout school, the financial burden of caring for children is extended. As of 2022, approximately one in six 25-34 year olds reside with their parents.

Yet for many in this generation, caring for aging parents is the heaviest burden. The challenges of navigating a complex healthcare system, medical costs, shared living, helping with daily activities, overseeing paid care, legal considerations and other concerns come at a financial, physical and emotional cost.

Self-Care Tips for the Sandwich Generation

For sandwich caregivers caught in the middle, it is easy to be overwhelmed with:

  • Caregiver burnout.
  • Feelings of depression, guilt and isolation.
  • Difficulties managing work, hobbies, relationships and self-care.
  • The psychological challenge of being pulled in multiple directions every day.

If this sounds like you or someone you love, you are not alone. You can help to counter this by:

Giving yourself time to relax daily: Try to schedule 30 minutes a day to do some­thing relaxing and rejuvenating for you. This could be anything from sitting on the couch reading a book to taking a walk or watching a favorite show. If 30 minutes isn’t possible, start with 5 minutes and go from there. Just taking 5 minutes to make yourself a cup of coffee or tea in the morning is an important way to care for yourself and prioritize your needs. You deserve to be cared for as much as your loved ones.

Accepting offered help: When friends or family members offer to help in any way, ac­cept their offer and give them something easy to do. Even a small task can lighten your load.

Finding meaning: It’s important to have other activities to turn to that are meaningful to you. Try meditation, join a club, find a new hobby, pick up an old hobby, or try anything that you feel drawn to.

Accepting your feelings and talking about them: We sometimes resist our feelings out of guilt over how we think we “should feel”. Instead of feeling guilty about your emotions, accept that caregiving is difficult and that you are human. Acknowledge your feelings and talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor about them. Talking can be energizing and a very effective way to release stress.

Making time to stay healthy: To take the best care all those depending on you, you have to make sure you are mentally and physically healthy. Eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, seeing a doctor regularly and exercising are all a part of maintaining your health. Even a small amount of exercise can give you a boost of feel-good hormones.

Grow your support network: Having a strong support network to fall back on is useful and can bring peace of mind. Grow your support network by becoming a member of a support group, joining an advocacy group, or participating in a social group for caregivers (it’s good to know you’re not alone). For those unable to travel, online caregiver groups can also provide relief and support.

Have a social outlet and don’t stop doing things you enjoy: Don’t give up activities that are important to you. Find a way to incorporate them into your very busy life. It is important to build and keep connections with other people who can bring joy into your life.

Take advantage of resources: Some communities offer care services, adult day care, or homecare. Research resources in your area and take advantage of these services so you can rest and recharge yourself.

Watch for signs of depression and anxiety: If you see signs of depression or anxiety develop­ing in your daily routine, talk to a friend, loved one, and/or counselor.

Resources available to support caregivers include:

If you are struggling with depression and are in distress, you can also call:
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