What Is The Sandwich Generation and Does It Come On Rye?
by Marjorie Dorfman
The term, Sandwich Generation, refers to the growing trend of a generation of people who are caring for their own parents while supporting their own children. Multi-generational families may have been the norm in the ancient world, but today this phenomenon requires special support from communities at large. Find out more, but eat first. No need to go hungry.
In the United States, July is Sandwich Generation Month. It is designated to promote awareness and celebrate the dedication, patience and caring of those adults who comprise the Sandwich Generation. It is a bona fide designation officially registered within the National Events Registry as an annual national celebration. Membership qualifications are stiff, for participants must be guardians of their own children and their own aging parents in order to be considered genuine members.
It is hoped that Sandwich Generation Month will bring a sense of awareness of the special needs of this odd phenomenon and the need for community support. Maintaining multi-generational families occurs in one out of every eight families, which means that just over one of every eight Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent. This is in addition to the seven to ten million adults who are caring for their aging parents long distance.
It is estimated that American families provide 80 to 90 percent of all in-home, long-term-care services for their aging family members, disabled adult children and other loved ones. Services can be varied and can include: assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), medical services coordination, medical supervision, administration of medications and assistance with financial, legal, spiritual and emotional concerns. If these same services were provided by our national health care system, it would be at an estimated cost of $250 billion dollars per year.
The need to understand aging dynamics and family relationships increases proportionately to the transformation of baby boomers into sandwich generationers and seniors. In keeping with the vocabulary, consider these different types:
Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
Club Sandwich Generation: those in their 50s or 60s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren, or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
Open Faced Generation: anyone else involved in elder care.
These sandwiches do not come with pickles, slaw, chips or fries, but rather an enormous responsibility. Due to the efforts of Carol Abaya, a pioneer in the true sense of the word when it comes to the many challenges of elder/parent care, her terminology has found its way into the latest editions of the Oxford English Dictionary and the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
In her own words: I also coined the words 'club sandwich generation' and 'open face sandwich generation.' Some day, they may also find their way into these prestigious dictionaries.
Although by no means an innovative form of caregiving, there has been, at least until recent times, a lack of interest for this segment of the population within American society. According to the most recent statistics, the typical Sandwich Generation Caregiver is in her mid-forties, married with children and cares for an elderly parent, usually her mother. There is also a growing trend for men who are assuming this role of caregiver squeezed in between several generations.
Sandwich generation caregivers often live in rural communities, which exacerbates the problem of providing help. Unlike caregivers living in urban and industrial areas, these populations are often isolated and far removed from available supportive services and care networks. Geographic barriers also separate family members and emotional support. This can aggravate stress and cause burnout and depression.
The Sandwich Generation is dispersed across all racial, gender, age and ethnic boundaries. Some common stressors equally affecting all caregivers are:
1. How do I give equal time to my children and my elderly relative?
2. How much time should I spend with each?
3. How do I find time for myself?
4. How do I keep the generational peace between my kids and my elder loved one?
5. How do I find the resources that I need for myself and my loved one?
6. How do I deal with the guilt of never doing enough?
Help is on the way.
Hold a family meeting to discuss the many caregiving tasks that have to be tackled each day of the week. Consider making a task list for everyone in the family and don't feel bad about not being able to continue your one person show because it is high time you did. If a family isn't for support, what purpose does it serve? Having a meeting brings family members together and gives everyone a chance to speak and share in the experience of caring for a loved one.
Ask your family for help. Don't be afraid. Also, check out local resources such as your local branch of Agency on Aging. Do some research on the Internet, as a world of helpful information awaits even if you must take the time to sort the wheat from the chaff.
In summation, you must always remember to take of your number one caregiver: namely, yourself. Without you, what would other family members who rely on you do? Start by allotting some time to yourself every day. Even if it turns out to be ten minutes, it will make a difference. That goes for your marriage and a bit of laughter as well. They require attention just as much as your charge. Listen to your body and if it is telling you to slow down, listen and pull up a chair.
Did you know . . .