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Do you have tips for those in the sandwich generation?

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A

The term “sandwich generation” refers to those in middle adulthood who have simultaneous commitments to help children adjust to adulthood and elderly parents deal with issues of later life. Most individuals in this stage of life are 45 to 65 years of age. The term may refer to two or three generations living in the same household, or it can refer to having commitments and responsibilities to both the older and younger generation. The term was coined in the 1980s as a result of adults living longer and adult children leaving home later and being more likely to return. This often creates stress in the lives of those in the middle of “the sandwich.”

In the early 19th century, the average life expectancy for adults was 40.9 years. Today, the average life expectancy is 75 years. Although the elderly are more likely to live alone and live longer than ever before, they may need the emotional and financial support from their sandwiched children in order to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Adult children are also “launching” later than ever before and are more likely to return home, needing support from their parents for longer periods of time. They may return home while attending college, during job transitions, when money becomes tight or if a relationship or marriage breaks up. Parents in this sandwich today are more likely to take in their adult children and view this support as contributing to their successful transition to adulthood.

Care for elderly parents is more likely to be provided by women (75 percent) than men (25 percent). Between half and two-thirds of adult women will care for elderly parents or in-laws at some time in their lives. The majority of the stress for those in the sandwich generation falls on women.

As new responsibilities for elderly parents begin, several issues may arise that must be addressed. There may be financial responsibilities the elderly parents cannot cover. There may be a need to manage legal, financial and emotional issues of elderly parents. Siblings may or may not contribute to the care of elderly parents. The elderly parent’s future needs may be unclear. There may be pain and guilt about current or potential nursing home placement. The quality of the relationship the adult child had in earlier years with parents can affect feelings about providing care.

At the same time issues are occurring with elderly parents, other issues may arise with adult children. Parents may wonder how much support should be provided to the adult child, i.e. educational expenses, car insurance expenses, use of the family car and food expenses. Feelings about providing resources for the adult child can be influenced by the reason the adult child returned home. The role the adult child plays in helping with household chores affects the workload experienced by those in the sandwich generation. What elderly parents and adult children bring to the situation may make a difference in determining whether or not it is a positive experience for those in the sandwich generation. There is evidence that having a healthy marriage going into the sandwich generation phase of life provides much needed support in dealing with the stresses of caring for two other generations. It is important, therefore, to keep the marriage relationship strong while raising children in preparation for what may later be a more stressful time in life.

Consider these tips if you are in the sandwich generation:

  • Take care of yourself. Find time for things you enjoy. Do not neglect the quality of your own life because you are taking care of others.
  • Take care of your marriage. If you have a spouse or partner, do not neglect that relationship.
  • To reduce stress, utilize support systems in your community to aid in the care of elderly parents and/or adult children.
  • Seek emotional support from friends, family or other organizations such as family services or employee assistance programs.

Posted on 15 Aug 2006

Brian Higginbotham
Marriage & Stepfamilies Specialist
Linda Skogrand
Family Relations/Diversity Specialist
Katie Henderson
Undergraduate student

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