Are You a Member of This Club?
The term “Sandwich Generation” has nothing to do with something you eat and everything to do with your stage of life and the demands that accompany it.
The “Sandwich Generation” is a phrase that defines a large population of people—a generation (mostly Baby Boomers) of approximately 16 million Americans—who are “sandwiched” between the simultaneous responsibilities of caring for their children and their aging parents. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 44 percent of Americans have an aging parent and children under the age of 21 to care for. Often, this responsibility falls squarely on the “already too-crowded” shoulders of women.
For the “sandwichers,” raising and establishing high school-age and college-age children is tough enough. This stage of parenting also includes getting them established in a career, the increasing possibility of serious dating and marriage, moving out of the nest, and perhaps even starting their own families—which, incidentally, can add taking care of grandchildren to some sandwichers’ “to do” list. Ever heard the adage, “Once a parent, always a parent”? It’s true. You’ve signed on for life—except, perhaps, for when you become an aged parent. This segues to the next point . . .
Ah, yes. Aging parents . . . the other side of the Sandwich Generation. Did you know that more than 25 percent of American families are involved in taking care of an aging parent? According to a recent USA Today poll, 41 percent of Baby Boomers help to care for at least one parent. It stands to reason; people are living well into their 80s and 90s and often need some assistance as they age. This number could increase in the next 25 years; at that point there will be 60 million Americans between the ages of 66 and 84—many of whom will require part-time or full-time care.
That care can take the form of general physical and emotional care of the aging parent as well as medical, legal, and financial matters that intersect his or her life and yours. These demands on the caregiver can surface quickly due to a parent’s precipitous decline in physical or mental health, which leads to his or her inability to function and live independently. At that point, crucial decisions for both short-term and long-term solutions must be made—and that plan often involves a “sandwich generation” woman.
For women who step in to give care and who have the uncanny knack for being “all things to all people,” their workload has just gone way over the top—and there is no easy solution to this difficult assignment. Like child-rearing practices, there is no “right” way to care for aging parents. You have to create the plan that works best for your life, schedule, and other responsibilities or it can be too much for one person. The truth is that no one can be all things to all people.
Here are some options for those in the throes of caring for their aging parents and need some back-up assistance:
- Adult day care: These centers provide assistance in caring for your adult loved one. Run much like child day care, adult day care insures that the individual gets care and interaction from paid staff. This is a great option when you need an extra pair of eyes and hands to provide care.
- Back-up family care: Providers of this service can step in and assist when there is an unanticipated need that arises and the primary caregiver cannot be around.
- Long-term care insurance: This supplemental insurance is available through some employers and some private plans and covers expenses for at-home, assisted living or nursing home care.
If you have children and parents, then you will probably feel the “sandwich” pangs at some point—if you have not experienced them already. It is wise to think through a plan of action before the “squeeze” is put on you.