More than 11 million Americans are caring for aging parents, spouses or other family members while also supporting their own children, according to a 2019 report from the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and Caring Across Generations, a national organization for caregivers and people with disabilities. In fact, acting as a caregiver for two generations at once is so common that there is even a name for the position: the "sandwich generation."
The moniker speaks to the challenging situation of people in midlife who find themselves sandwiched between taking care of their aging parents' health care, finances or living situation and caring for their own children — often while trying to save for retirement and their kids' college tuition as well. On top of these responsibilities, many caregivers also juggle full-time careers. These stressors in combination can take a toll on sandwich generation caregivers.
The NAC report also includes the following key takeaways:
- 1 in 5 sandwich generation caregivers report feeling financial strain due to caregiving responsibilities.
- Sandwich generation caregivers must often miss work or reduce work hours during their "prime working and long-term saving years."
- Around 44% of sandwich generation caregivers want more information on managing stress.
Find Balance With These 6 Tips for the Sandwich Generation
If you are a sandwich generation caregiver, you may be feeling the effects of emotional, financial and workplace strain. Fortunately, there is plenty of information available on how to provide care for the people you love while also supporting yourself and your financial future.
Here are six ways to maintain a healthy balance between caring for aging parents and caring for yourself and your children as a sandwich generation caregiver.
1. Enlist the Help of Others
As a sandwich generation caregiver, you may feel like you are the only one who can get the job done when it comes to caregiving duties and taking care of your kids, but there are likely other resources you could tap. For instance, one of your children might be able to help by cleaning grandma's house, mowing the grass or sitting with her so you can have a Saturday off. Maybe a sibling could run errands or buy groceries on a regular basis to relieve you of some recurring duties.
Fellow sports carpool parents or similar groups might gladly help you with driving duties if you explain that you're overextended due to caring for aging parents. If you're married but tasked with most of the caregiving duties for a parent, you could ask your spouse if they could step up to do more in terms of housekeeping, cooking or running errands.
2. Talk With Your Employer
Talking with your employer can be tricky, as you might be worried that they would resent you taking time off. But if you're having trouble juggling work and caregiving as a member of the sandwich generation, it may be time to talk with your manager or someone in human resources about working reduced hours or working remotely for a more flexible schedule. You may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law that protects workers' jobs when they take leave to care for certain immediate family members or their own health.
3. Explore Employee Caregiver Benefits
Check whether your employer offers paid FMLA leave, as many companies extend that benefit to caregivers. Companies may also offer specific benefits geared toward caregiver employees, such as employer-paid memberships to caregiver resources like Care@Work, which partners with employers to provide benefits and services for caregiver employees, including free programs for managing care and finding back-up care when a scheduled caregiver cancels.
Need someone to talk to about the stressors and emotions that come with being a member of the sandwich generation? If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), you could schedule a few sessions with a therapist or counselor to work through your thoughts and get validation for your feelings.
4. Consult a Financial Advisor or Retirement Planner
If you're in the sandwich generation, you may be feeling the pinch of having to pay for part or all of a parent's in-home care, assisted living services or nursing care. Even if your older parent doesn't need that level of care, you might still have to work reduced hours or even quit your job due to caregiver responsibilities. Meanwhile, you may also be trying to save for your kids' college funds and grow your retirement savings.
Consulting an experienced retirement planner or financial advisor can help you find ways to manage money and save for retirement and college, even if you are spending a considerable amount on a parent's long-term care.
5. Stay on Top of Your Own Health
It can be easy to neglect your own health if you are constantly driving a parent back and forth to doctor's appointments, running kids to soccer practice and losing sleep over concerns while doing your best to meet work obligations. In fact, about 1 in 3 Alzheimer's caregivers say their health has worsened due to care responsibilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Keep in mind that as a sandwich generation caregiver, you won't be able to provide the best care for your parents and kids if you get sick. To avoid this, be sure to schedule annual physicals, maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise and attend to your mental wellness.
6. Take Advantage of Community Resources
In most large cities and even smaller towns, you can find organizations with volunteers who are eager to sit with your parent so you can enjoy some respite time, shop for groceries, do yard work, clean the house, cook or run errands. Consider contacting your local agency on aging to get started. Someone there can direct you to volunteer resources, support groups and organizations that can offer encouragement and advice on how to make being a caregiver easier.
If you're a member of the sandwich generation, you may already be spending considerable time checking in on an older parent, acting as a caregiver, or managing their in-home or residential care. Or you may be looking ahead to plan for a time when you might become a sandwich generation caregiver. In either case, remember that establishing a suitable work/life balance, maintaining your mental wellness and planning for your own retirement will be important considerations to keep in mind as you look to provide your loved ones with the best care.