Are You Caught in the Sandwich Generation?

sandwich generation

The American population is aging, and this means a rise in the number of adults caught in what researchers call the sandwich generation—those who are caring for aging parents while still caring for their own children. Nurturing loved ones on both ends of your life, all of whom have major needs, is emotionally and physically draining. It can also throw a wrench into your financial planning. How can you cope with such a heavy load without cracking?

First of all, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Around 1 in 8 Americans age 40 to 60 is caring for an aging family member while raising a child. But you will be forced to make choices about priorities, learn to delegate responsibility, and accept that you won’t be perfect at both jobs every single day. Cutting yourself some slack may be the most important key to preventing burnout while you’re sandwiched in between.

Take a break from volunteering.

We love volunteers! They make every school, church, and community a better place. However, if you’re pulling double duty as a caregiver, you have very little margin in your schedule. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to some or all of the volunteer opportunities that come your way for a season. A time will come when your responsibilities shift again and you’ll be able to give more to the outside world and causes you hold dear.

Train your older children to pitch in.

In the not-too-distant past, it was common for three or more generations of a family to live together as grandparents aged. As a consequence, older children were expected to contribute more fully to the running of the household: caring for younger siblings, helping with chores, and taking more responsibility for their own needs. Even though current culture typically expects less of tweens and teens, they are capable of so much more! Delegate more tasks to them and the whole family will benefit.

Recruit your siblings to help with aging parents.

Many times the care of an older parent falls to one adult child more than the others. Sometimes, it’s simply because the other siblings don’t know what to do. If you find yourself in the role of chief caregiver, talk with your siblings about ways they can contribute to the effort. If they live nearby, it may be hands-on help. If they live further away, it might be by contributing resources toward hiring more professional help. Make sure they’re aware of what the specific needs are and how they can meet them.

Let go of perfectionism.

If you’re in the sandwich years, it might be a good time to lower the bar on some negotiable areas of life. Simplify your holiday routine from decorations to gift-giving. Relax if the house isn’t as tidy as it used to be. Don’t freak out if you gain five pounds. All of these things can be tightened up again when time permits. For now, just roll with it.

Give yourself an outlet.

This may be the hardest of our suggestions, because it requires time—time you likely feel you don’t have. But allowing yourself a bit of alone time regularly to decompress is vital. Prioritize it so that you have that opportunity to recharge your own batteries and enable yourself to serve everyone else.

Communicate clearly with your spouse.

The sandwich season can put a lot of pressure on a marriage. Make a conscious effort to check in with each other frequently to just say, “How are we doing?” It will give each of you the chance to express where you could use more help, and will provide a chance to strategize about how to accomplish the top priorities.

Accept help from friends.

Just like your siblings can help with the parents, your mom friends are often glad to help out with your kids. Take them up on an offer to drive carpool for you when needed or drop your kid at home after sports practice. Every little bit helps!

© 2014 iMOM. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

In The Comments

Are you part of the sandwich generation?


  • Gina

    Thank you for this article! I’m currently trying to balance helping care for my grandparents and all the things that come with having a family with 2 young children. I have been feeling incredibly overwhelmed. It was a great reminder that I can give myself a break on some other things (especially when it comes to volunteering at church & trying to keep a picture-perfect house) and that I can ask for help from the people around me.
    Thanks again.

    • Dana Hall McCain

      I’m glad you found this encouraging, Gina! Thanks for letting us know!

  • Ajchicago2823

    Interesting article, but unfortunately most “sandwich generation” members find their situation much more complicated than this article reads. There is one particular part of your article that families need to take great care in approaching; “Train older children to pitch in”.

    I have two teenagers (16 and 18), my 18 year old will be leaving for college next month, but has been assisting (as well as the 16 year old) with my handicapped mother for the 10 years she has lived with us. When approaching this subject each family has to decide how much responsibility will be placed on those “children”. Remembering even older children are still children and I firmly believe in chores, but there is a very fine line where chores become obligation. My family has definitely struggled with that.

    Our situation is a unique one to begin with, in the fact that you will see very few active-duty military families taking in a parent because of housing limitations. Until last November, when we retired, we had to add regular moves into the complexity of taking care of an aging parent.

    The fact that my mother doesn’t take care of herself the way she knows she should aggravates the problem tenfold. Her failure to do her daily physical therapy results in falls that have, at times, lead to long hospital/rehab stays (which taxes my family even more).

    I cannot afford to stay home and mentioning physical therapy to her just starts arguments, she horribly depressed but you cannot mention therapy to her because, yet again, it starts arguments. I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    My brother offers absolutely NO help and the 1 time I asked for his assistance in the last 10 years, he came up with excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t assist (he doesn’t live locally). In fact, our father lives much closer to him, but when he needed assistance after surgery a couple of years ago, it was me that packed up both my kids and traveled to stay with him (while my husband was deployed). Did I mention my brother isn’t married nor does he have any children?

    The situation with my mom has gotten to the point that we have told her if she continues to allow her health to decline, she will end up in a home because we have neither the time, patience, or money to allow her to live in our home.

    When placing responsibilities on your children ALWAYS think about those responsibilities thoroughly before acting on them. Unfortunately my kids know how to get my mother up, with no assistance from my husband or myself (kids shouldn’t have that kind of stress added to their already stressful lives). They have regular household chores, but when a handicapped, aging person lives in the household the entire dynamic changes…not always for the better.

    My mother is manipulative and has, until this point used it to her advantage; however, a few months ago we were able to sit down with our children and explain how she acts to manipulate them and to ‘cut her off’ when she tries to do so. It has helped a bit, but some days are more challenging than others. More times than not, when this situation arises, the parent becomes another child to the parents of that home. It’s hard to go from being a daughter to my mother, to acting more like her mother, but it’s imperative to my family’s well being.

    Finally, one critical thing that ALL families in this situation must do is take care of your immediate (husband/wife, and children) before worrying about your parent. Don’t feel guilty about doing things without the parent, it’s crucial to the relationships with your children.

    Sorry for the long post, but the article touches on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this subject, but thank you for at least broaching the subject when most won’t!

    • Dana Hall McCain

      You are definitely facing a tough set of circumstances–more than many would be able to shoulder! I agree that every “sandwich situation” comes with it’s own set of challenges, and no two are alike. But we, here at iMOM, did feel that more and more of our readers are finding themselves caught in between, and wanted to offer a few practical encouragements. Thank you for your feedback!