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How to Handle the 5 Biggest Pressures Sandwich Generation is Facing

Feeling squeezed by aging parents and kids? Here's how to manage life in the middle.

by Sheryl Nance-Nash | June 22, 2021
<p>Paper illustration of a man sitting with his head in his hand and a fuel gauge above him on "empty"</p>

Feeling pressured by responsibilities for both you children and your parents can leave you feeling like you're running on empty. But don't give in!

The Squeeze

  • When your parents require serious caregiving — anywhere from 8 to 25 hours a week — you need to regiment your own life to make room for self-care
  • Take a little time to research community resources which can help provide guidance, health insurance tips and info and possibly even some caregiving help
  • Work often takes a back seat when you are caregiving, but you have to make sure that sleep doesn't.

It doesn’t take much to create a perfect storm. 

We’ve got kids — no matter the age, they're full of drama. Our parents’ needs are inching up more and more as they age. And then there's our jobs, which never seem to get easier. Like Sandra Bullock in Speed, slowing down just isn’t an option for us.

Welcome to the Sandwich Generation: truly, the best of times and the worst of times. While you’ve achieved a certain level of stability, many days feel anything but. Maybe your mom is having a difficult day with her debilitating disease. Or your teen is struggling to keep up with his studies. And then there's that report due two days ago at the office. And maybe it's all three at once.  

On any given day, a cornucopia of pressure weighs down on the more than 11 million Americans with kids at home and caring for an adult family member at the same time — and yet we still find a way to get the job done. 

Here, we round up the top five concerns facing the Sandwich Generation and offer a few smart strategies for dealing with each — because who can’t use a new strategy or two?

Navigating eldercare 

Taking responsibility for mom and dad is an honor. Who better to care for your parents at a time of life when they are beginning to decline than you? Whether you’ve invited them into your home to live, travel back and forth across town daily to take care of them or talk them through their needs long-distance, helping out is a labor of love. 

And yet, the to-do list never ends, from preparing meals, overseeing their health care needs, ushering them to medical appointments, staying on top of their prescriptions, handling their bills and more. In some ways, it can be like when your child was an infant, completely dependent on you. 

Your caregiving efforts are valiant, for sure, but don’t be afraid to ask for help, be it someone to help with cooking and cleaning or a home health aide to assist your parents with daily care. Put out a siren call to other family members to contribute time — even just someone sitting with your loved one while you nap or run errands can give you a necessary moment to recharge. 

A few other ideas:

• If you have family members living far away, consider asking for financial contributions for your parents’ care, since they cannot provide time or presence — a logical way to share the responsibility. 

• If your parents aren't living under your roof, you'll rest easier at night if you have put a medical alert system that monitors them 24 hours a day into place. 

• Tap into community resources for caregivers where you can both learn about local programs that might benefit your loved one, and get some emotional support, too, from people who are going through the same challenges you are. 

Family-first finances

We’ve all seen the reports about the cost of raising a child, but how about the cost of caring for a parent? Well, those figures exist: a 2019 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in partnership with Caring Across Generations, Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Sandwich Generation Caregiving in the U.S., finds that one in five Sandwich caregivers report feeling financial strain, while 25 percent say it’s hard to find affordable services for their friend or family member.

"The financial burden of the sandwich generation can be substantial,” says Lauren Klein, a certified financial planner. “At a time when it is vital to be saving as much as possible to support their own financial wellness in retirement, people in the Sandwich Generation have to stretch the household budget to help support their parents' increasing need for care, even as they face a tidal wave of other competing financial demands." 

Worrying about money at a time when you already have enough on your shoulders only compounds stress — especially when it's enough to be managing the other job you have — the one that pays the bills. This is definitely a time to get very focused on cutting or reducing discretionary expenses, to cover your caregiving costs. And take some time to research and tap into local, state and federal resources, such as the Administration for Community Living, where patients and caregivers can find low-cost or free help in their area and information about adult day care, senior centers, and transportation services.  

Work-life pressures

Just when many of us are making great strides in our careers, caregiving can be a game-changer — and not in the good way. In a 2016 AARP report, "The Dual Pressures of Family Caregiving and Employment," more than half the family caregivers surveyed reported downshifting their careers, whether taking a leave of absence, reducing the hours they work, taking a less demanding job, turning down a promotion or retiring early to fulfill their role as caregivers. 

That impact of such choices can have a long-term impact on your finances, affecting your future retirement savings and Social Security benefits, as well as your ability to invest and build wealth in what are often your prime earning years.

The day-to-day of trying to focus on work, when there are issues with your parents, kids, maybe even your marriage, can be taxing on your sanity. Be sure to give yourself breathing room at work, busy or not. Take lunches, mental health breaks throughout the day, and don't skip vacations — even if it's only a staycation. 

You don't have to go it alone in the workplace. Even if you don't share with your boss your caregiving responsibilities, there's human resources and perhaps an Employee Assistance Program. Speak up. You may find that your company has wellness programs, reimbursable elder care services, financial and legal counseling and eldercare resources. 

Managing stress

When you spend an average of 22 hours a week caring for someone, juggling work takes a toll. According to research from the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) in partnership with Caring Across Generations, those hours are not unusual for caregivers. About one-third of those interviewed reported emotional stress. There is a proven link between long-term stress and disease. While you are taking care of everyone else's health, make yours a priority. 

Just as you make sure your parents get their checkups and annual exams once you are in caregiving mode, don't put such matters of your own on the back burner. Eating healthy and boosting your immune system can help mitigate the impact of stress. You should not see getting enough sleep as optional. Be consistent. An occasional nap on a Saturday every three months will not suffice. Arrange your schedule so that you are making your best effort to get seven or eight hours every night.

Finding "Me" Time

Everything is clamoring for your attention — your parents, spouse, kids, the job — so it’s no wonder if you’re last on your own list. But in the end that's a no-go. Self-care is essential to your mental health. If you don't take care of yourself, you'll be no good to anyone before long. With so much going on in your life, consider counseling and support groups. Make time for nights out with friends, exercise or long walks with a dear friend. There's no shame in curling up with a book or anything else that gives you a healthy release. 

Says Klein: "Keep a light heart and have a sense of humor. This is life! Making space for joy and laughter can ease the burdens of the moment so you can cherish every member of your beautiful 'sandwich' family — even during the challenges.”

About the Author

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, business and travel. Her work has appeared in Money Magazine, Forbes.com, ForbesAdvisor.com, Money.com, ABCNews.com, Newsday, The New York Times, AARP The Magazine, Business Insider, among others.

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