“Sandwich Generation” defines a large population of people—a generation of approximately 16 million Americans, mostly Baby Boomers—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. This responsibility often falls squarely on the already-too-crowded shoulders of women.
For the Sandwichers, raising and establishing older children is tough enough. This stage of parenting includes kids’ careers, serious dating or marriage, moving out of the nest and even starting their own families—which, incidentally, can add taking care of grandchildren to some Sandwichers’ responsibilities. You’ve heard the adage “Once a parent, always a parent,” and it’s true. You’ve signed on for life.
Speaking of parents…the other side to the Sandwich Generation has to do with taking care of their aging parents. A USA Today poll says that 41 percent of Baby Boomers help care for at least one parent. It stands to reason, too. People are living well into their 80s and 90s and often need some assistance as they age. In the coming decades, there will be about 60 million Americans between the ages of 66 and 84—many of whom will require part- or full-time care.
Care can come in 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, leading to the inability to function and live independently. At that point, crucial decisions for both short- 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 skyrockets—and there is no easy solution to this difficult assignment. They have to create a plan that works best for their lives, schedules and other responsibilities, or it can be overwhelming. One thing’s for sure, though, if you’re a member of Club Sandwich: taking care of yourself is essential. So much depends on you. In short, there are extraordinary demands on your life that require extraordinary health and stamina to keep up.
The problem is that women are often so busy caring for and nurturing others that they put their own health on the backburner—but taking care of yourself is not a selfish act. It’s a healthy one. It’s impossible to give what you don’t have, and in order to not burn out, you need to take time to replenish. That’s why eating a nutrient-dense diet, exercising daily and de-stressing for continued energy, stamina and strength is smart.
Taking care of your family’s health is important—and escalates if you find yourself doing double-duty in the Sandwich Generation—but it depends on a healthy, strong you. Don’t let being in Club Sandwich put the ultimate squeeze on you. Remember that your health is vital, too.