June 28, 2012

As July is fast approaching, we're gearing up to celebrate the annual Sandwich Generation Month. In recent years, a new phenomenon called the sandwich generation has been brought to light. The sandwich generation is a group of adults, mostly between the ages of 30 and 55, who find themselve
s caring for aging parents as well as their own children under 21. This group of individual is rapidly growing in size as more and more adults find themselves sandwiched between caring for two generations.

According to the Pew Research Center, 16 percent of American houses are comprised of at least three generations at once. Pushed between the dual pressures of caring for both groups, members of the sandwich generation often experience a lot more stress than they bargained for.

Why is the sandwich generation a new phenomenon? With improved healthcare and nutrition, Americans’ life expectancies are changing. Many people now live well into their 80s and 90s. In addition, many women wait until they are older and more settled before having children. These two factors mean that many adults are now saddled with taking care of two generations in addition to themselves.

In 2007, Griswold Home Care created Sandwich Generation Month, a national holiday that is celebrated each July. As we approach Sandwich Generation Month, be sure to acknowledge loved ones who may be part of the sandwich generation by offering support and sharing informational resources such as this blog post. If you are part of the sandwich generation yourself, be sure to read on for tips and advice.

If you’re a member of the sandwich generation, you may feel that you don’t have enough time in your schedule for work and household responsibilities, and caring for yourself, in addition to caring for the generations above and below you.

If you are responsible for aging parents as well as your own children, read these tips to help you take control and restore order:

■Put yourself first. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you can’t care for others if you’re not taking care of yourself. Schedule time for exercise, regular meals, and social time with friends. Make sure to get enough sleep and drink enough water. Making yourself a priority will give you the strength and energy to handle your responsibilities.

■Consider alternatives to having your parents move in with you. There’s no need to feel guilty if the burden of housing your parents seems like too much to handle. In-home respite care shifts some of the responsibility of caregiving to professional caregivers, giving you more energy for you to take care of yourself.

■Seek help from others. You can’t do it all, so ask others to chip in. Communicate with siblings and other family members to let them know what’s going on with your parents and kids. Make a list of all the things you need help with, and  be as specific as you can so that others know how to help; let family members know that the kids need a ride home from school or that someone needs to call mom’s insurance company.

■Talk to your employer. Don’t keep your schedule a secret from your employer. Your boss can’t help you unless s/he knows what’s going on in your life. Talk to your employer about your caregiving responsibilities, and ask if there is flexibility in your schedule to accommodate trips to the doctor’s office or other responsibilities. Many companies have employee assistance programs that have plans for the sandwich generation. Counselors can help you to maximize the benefits available, including family medical leave.
■Embrace your situation. As hard as it can be to care for both your parents and your children, don’t forget to see the beauty in your special situation: your children will develop a closer bond with their grandparents. Celebrate this by doing regular family activities, such as having dinners together.

Today’s sandwich generation faces a big challenge. But with help from those around you and a little preparation, caring for three generations (don’t forget yourself!) is manageable, and can even be rewarding.