By: Lora McHale, PA-C, Physician Assistant
Do you care for both an older relative and your own children? If so, you are part of the “Sandwich Generation,” an increasingly growing segment of the American population for those of us sandwiched between caring for kids and for our older parents. Add in a full-time job and that is a whole lot of work. Add in the recent COVID pandemic and it seems like a recipe for disaster, but it doesn’t have to be if you are able to give up some control and lean on others in your village.
In the broadest sense the term the Sandwich Generation can be defined as the “caught in the middle” generation, typically in their late 30’s- 50’s, who are caring for their children while also caring for their parents whether financially, physically, or emotionally. Multigenerational needs have become even more pressing during the Covid-19 pandemic, with record numbers of adult children moving back home and with elderly parents who are in need of new forms of care. Parents feel emotionally and financially stressed by caring for young children and older relatives at the same time.
Parenting Your Parents
As America ages, the phrase “parenting your parents” is becoming increasingly important and widely used. So, what exactly is parenting your parent? Most individuals in the “Sandwich Generation,” the Baby Boomers and Generation X, are being faced with—or will confront—this issue. In general, Americans are choosing to have children later in life, while older Americans are enjoying an even-increasing lifespan. What this means, of course, is that many parents of school-aged children are also being confronted with the need to care for elderly parents. As this trend continues, many Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the generations following them will be forced to care for both their own children, and their parents, at the same time.
The Pew Research Center reports that more than every 1 in 10 parents are caring for an adult in addition to their own children. Sandwich Generation parents spend about three hours per day on caregiving duties, split between their children and their parents. Caregiving as a member of the Sandwich Generation can be both exhausting and expensive. Juggling the emotional, logistical, and financial aspects is no easy feat; but there are ways to make the process easier.
Mothers in the “Sandwich Generation,” typically between the ages of 35-54, feel more stress than any other age group as they balance the demanding, delicate tasks of caring for growing children and their aging parents, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association, APA. The survey reveals that nearly two-in-five men and women in this age group feel overextended, more women than men report experiencing extreme stress and admitted to poorly managing their stress.
Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed, aged 35-54, report extreme levels of stress (compared to 29 percent of 18-34 years old and 25 percent of those older than 55). This stress takes a toll not only on personal relationships—83 percent say relationships with their spouse, children, and family is the top source of their stress—but also on their own well-being as they struggle to take better care of themselves
The pandemic has put many in untenable positions; people who were already bearing intense loads are facing more strain, stress, and precariousness. We are also seeing more “triple-decker sandwich” or “double sandwich” individuals. This involves, for instance, people in their 60s helping to care for their grandchildren, which allows their adult children to work, as well as supporting their own parents in their 90s,
This pressure is only mounting on the Sandwich Generation, as support and vital resources are scarce. So, as more millennials become caught in the middle, there is one major question: how, exactly, do we take care of ourselves while caring for everyone else needs?
9 Tips to Help Reduce the Squeeze
Parents caring for both children and aging parents often feel overextended, but they can manage stress by identifying triggers, self-care, and asking for support.
- Communicate openly. Be open and honest in your communication. The ability to say, ‘I’m overwhelmed’ or ‘I need to step away,’ has become even more important. Remember that you are not alone, and that other people are struggling, too.
- Identify stressors: What events or situations trigger stressful feelings? Are they related to your children, family health, financial decisions, work, relationships, or something else? Be sure to clearly identify the cause of your stressors so you can deal with them effectively.
- Be kind to others. Understand that we are all in the same predicament. If someone is having a tough day or hard time with something, showing kindness to each other can bring you even closer with your colleagues and friends.
- Set boundaries in your home. 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 and do not feel guilty using the word “no”.
- Be clear on what your must-dos are. Make lists and cross off items as they are accomplished. Some people find gratification in writing a To Do list every day and crossing off things as they are completed. I know quite a few people who use Notes on their phone or utilize their calendar to set daily reminders. Whatever works best to stay organized throughout your day is what you need to do to set daily goals and tasks for yourself.
- Set a routine. Keeping yourself and your family on a daily routine, especially during the week can be quite helpful. Setting expectations that your family can abide by and rely on is helpful in maintaining household organization which will ultimately bring you peace of mind. Creating a weekly menu to plan your food shopping alleviates a lot of pressure and stress.
- Prioritize sleep. Sleep instead of watching more TV and scrolling through your phone. Add the extra minutes onto your sleep schedule. We all know how much sleep we need for optimal functionality. Do not shortchange yourself. Rest when you can. Do not be afraid to close your bedroom door for a power nap or some alone time. It is important for us all to take care of ourselves so we can be present for others.
- Take Time for You. This is by far the most important tip. It is crucial for you to take time for yourself every day doing something that you love in order for you to destress. Focus on your own health and wellness by eating right, drinking a lot of water, and exercising. We spend so much time taking care of our families that we do not often stop to focus on our own wellbeing. Sign up for a local yoga class, take a walk or bike ride around your neighborhood, join a neighborhood walking or running club, or grab a book and find a quiet place in your home where you can close a door. Whatever it is that will give you time to recharge and pause from the day to say stressors is important for your physical and mental health.
- 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 your primary care physician and/or a psychologist who can help you address the emotions behind your worries, better manage stress, and change unhealthy behaviors.
In the face of these difficult caregiving responsibilities, do not forget about yourself. Instead, turn to local agencies and support groups for help in dealing with your caregiving issues. To determine the type of agency or support group that is best for you, contact local faith organizations, the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Social Services Department, or your local Area Agency on Aging.
Dual caregiving can be expensive. While secondary insurance can cover some expenses, bills can quickly add up. Check with a local office on aging or visit the National Council on Aging’s Benefits Checkup site to find out what benefits are available; there are programs that cover a wide range of needs, from nutrition to assistance with heating and cooling bills.
Additional resources can be found on the Family Caregiver Alliance website including caregiving tips, information and encouragement about taking care of yourself as a caregiver, connections to community organizations and agencies, and overviews of health conditions.
Lora McHale, PA-C, has over 30 years of experience as a Physician Assistant and has been with Changebridge Medical Associates, a member of Consensus Health, since 2019 after relocating from Atlanta to Montville. When she is not working, Lora spends her free time with her husband, their four sons, and their English bulldog, Mugsy. She is an avid sports fan and a college football enthusiast who devotedly follows the Clemson Tigers.