They are hard pressed on both sides. They manage the needs and challenges of several households. They firmly occupy the middle ground between two generations. They are members of the sandwich generation. Typically middle-aged, they often help support parents 65 or older and children under the age of 18.1 The name refers to those people who are “sandwiched” between providing care for an older generation and a younger one.
WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHY?
Changing demographic trends, shifting economic landscapes, healthier lifestyles, and longer life spans are putting an even greater squeeze on the sandwich generation. On the one side, postponing childbearing until the 30s means middle-aged parents are taking care of teenagers. On the other side, the parents of middle-aged parents are often in their late 60s and 70s, when health concerns become acute and evident. Adding to the pressure on members of the sandwich generation, sometimes called “sandwichers,” is the growing number of boomerang children, adult children returning to their childhood homes to live with their parents.
THE SANDWICH SQUEEZE
While retirement for many sandwichers may be on the distant horizon, the generational squeeze is taking an immediate toll, especially when unanticipated expenses are factored into the equation.
In particular, boomerang children are compelling members of the sandwich generation to rethink their long-range plans (which may include retirement) and often require the sandwichers to make unpleasant lifestyle adjustments.2
The opportunity for boomerang children, who are struggling to find their own financial footing in a complicated world, to save money by living at home is enticing.3 In fact, boomerang children—25- to 35-year-old Millennials—are returning home in rising numbers; 15% of them live in their parents’ home.4
These percentages are significantly higher than in previous generations: 5% more than the Generation Xers who lived at home in 2000 (10%) and nearly double the percentage (8%) of members of the Silent Generation in 1964.
Looking at the phenomenon from the other side, people are living longer; life expectancies are lengthening. The average life expectancy in the U.S. is longer than any other time in history.5
The average life expectancy in the U.S. at birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is nearly 79 years.6
According to the international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 65-year-old men can expect to live about another 18 years, while women in their middle 60s can expect to live at least another 20 years.7
The percentage of the population 65 and over has also risen. In 1950, it was 8%; it was 12% in 2000 and is expected to reach 20% in 2050.
The trend is expected to continue to grow as young adults seek more pragmatic solutions to financial challenges and older, retired adults live longer and fuller lives. Currently, 15% of middle-aged adults provide financial support to aging parents and children.8
While the numbers of sandwichers isn’t expected to increase substantially, the financial cost for care will, researchers say; and the bulk of the financial pressure on members of the sandwich generation is expected to come from their children, both young and adult.
With the added and sometimes unexpected burden, sandwichers have to make sure to take care of themselves to avoid burnout or making bad health or financial decisions.
STEPS TO MANAGING THE PRESSURE
If you’re a sandwicher, here are some ways to help make your life easier, more enjoyable, and less stressful. 9
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
With the responsibility of providing at least part of the financial and emotional care for both elderly adults and children, the stress can get overwhelming at times. Emergencies can throw well-organized schedules and plans into disarray. Self-care is vital to help you maintain your calm and cool. Stay healthy. Stay strong.
KEEP EVERYONE UPDATED.
As the liaison (or middleman) for relatives and friends, you may get inundated with requests for information about the health of your parents, the status of your adult children, or the development of your young children. Send regular group emails or texts to friends and family members with updates on health and other matters.
SHARE THE WORK.
Taking care of two generations and managing the needs and life challenges of so many people with divergent needs can be trying. You can’t do it alone, at least for the long haul. Start delegating the duties. Assign chores to the children, especially the older ones. Enlist your siblings to help your parents with paperwork or other concerns.
If no one is volunteering, consider hiring someone to help with tasks or chores. Babysitters can fill the void for doctors’ appointments and home care aides can help when you’re with your children. Housekeeping services can also take up some of the slack.
CHANGE YOUR WORK SCHEDULE.
See if your employer will allow you to change your schedule. A more flexible schedule may allow you to adjust to respond to the needs of your parents and children more efficiently.
DETERMINE WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT.
In other words, prioritize. Your daily schedule is fixed. You only have 24 hours. Draft a list; eliminate wasteful activities. Keep your to-do list simple and pliable.
THINK ABOUT YOU.
Be selfish. Set time for unwinding and relaxing. Watch your favorite show, read a good book, or enroll in an aerobics class. The time away will give you a chance to recharge.
TALK IT UP, EXPRESS YOURSELF.
Seek emotional support from close friends or family members. Sometimes just venting helps soothe your soul. Joining a support group is a great way to relieve the pressure and find comfort from others who may be undergoing similar experiences.
ENTER THE NOW.
Sometimes life can feel stressful and ambiguous. You may wrestle with mixed emotions. You may be plagued by guilt, imagining you haven’t spent adequate time with aging parents or young children. Put an end to the negativity. It may be hard at times, but years from now you’ll take comfort and joy in knowing you invested yourself in doing what was right for the people you love.
If you are part of the sandwich generation, remind yourself that your service is a reflection of who and what you are. You are fulfilling a noble obligation to provide care for people who need you.