The first time I heard the term “sandwich generation,” I thought it was just another mildly offensive way to refer to people born within a given period. And then I looked it up. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term stands for “a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children.” In other words, being a part of the sandwich generation means being a caregiver 24/7.
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The Reality of Being a 24/7 Caregiver
A survey by Pew Research Center found that 12% of American parents also provide (unpaid) care to an adult. And that doesn’t just translate to living in a multigenerational home.
On average, being part of the sandwich generation means:
- 2.5 hours of care work at home, every day
- almost 1.5 hours less paid time per day in the workplace
- 21 fewer minutes of sleep per night
- an annual cost of around $10,000
Moreover, being a 24/7 caregiver also means a great deal of stress and anxiety, along with very little time to spend on much-needed self-care.
But despite the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of caring for both children and aging parents, there are ways for people in the sandwich generation to have a high quality of life.
Coping With the Challenges of Being in the Sandwich Generation
One of the best strategies for coping with the demands of raising children and helping your parents at the same time is thorough preparation.
We don’t mean preparation in the sense of micromanaging every detail of your life. And it’s definitely not about expecting yourself to do everything perfectly. We’re talking about objectively assessing the requirements of caring for others and coming up with a plan that prioritizes everyone’s wellbeing. This will, of course, entail different things in each household. But the results should be similar: finding an efficient way to complete everyday tasks without having to sacrifice anyone’s physical or emotional health.
Tackling the Role of “Sandwich Generation” Caregiver
Have Everyone Pitch in
One of the absolute best ways to make multigenerational care easier on everyone is to share the burden. Sure, your 12-year-old can’t drive grandma to her monthly doctor’s check-up. But they can help by doing a few age-appropriate household chores. Similarly, grandparents may not be able to do physically demanding jobs around the house. But that doesn’t mean they can’t help out with homework, do some light meal-prep, or provide wisdom, advice, and emotional support during stressful periods such as school exams.
Actively Work on Burnout Prevention
Another important strategy for coping with the demands of being in the sandwich generation is to take regular breaks. Try to take time off from being in charge of everyone’s wellbeing. You can ask for help from family members. Or, you could research respite care through specialized centers or programs in your area. By giving yourself sufficient time off, you’re not just providing yourself with a deserved break. More importantly, you’re actively working on preventing burnout and the adverse health consequences of being chronically stressed.
Ask for Help
Most caregivers can’t afford to hire professional help, but that doesn’t mean they should try and do everything alone. Assistance can come in many different forms. It could be provided by a reliable neighborhood teen who can babysit for a couple of hours during the weekend. Or it might be a more flexible work schedule. Even something as simple as having a friend or therapist to talk to about your struggles can mean a lot in coping with the demands of being part of the sandwich generation.
Try to Shift Your Perspective
Finally, if you’re struggling with the role of being a 24/7 caregiver, it might not be a bad idea to try and look at the work from a different point of view. Getting the opportunity to spend meaningful time with your children and parents is a precious gift. And sadly, it’s not a privilege that will go on forever. So making the absolute most of the present is essential. Try to live in the moment. Find things about helping your loved ones that bring you joy. Practice gratitude. You’d be surprised to find how big of a difference a shift in your approach can make.
Yes, we all need the occasional reminder to stop and smell the roses. But training ourselves to do it every day makes life so much more worth living – despite all its challenges.
Caring for multiple generations at once can be a struggle. But the one thing you must understand as a 24/7 caregiver is that the best way to successfully do and enjoy your job is to take proper care of yourself. So don’t be afraid to look for ways to make everyday life a bit easier. Whether it’s by implementing one of our tips or finding your own way of making things work is entirely up to you. The only requisite is that it allows you to be happy and healthy while helping your kids and parents do the same.
Kim is the owner and publisher of Sass Magazine, as well as the owner of Sass Studios, a boutique graphic design studio in Frederick, MD. When not in the office, Kim can be found doing some of her favorite hobbies—reading a book, dancing, traveling, or playing with her rescued pitbull.