Squeezed In Between: The Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich GeneratioMH910216391n is a phrase coined by Carol Abaya but has gained such common use that it is listed in the dictionary.  It generally refers to those members of society who are raising children and caring for an elderly parent.  For statisticians it often means women between the ages of 45 and 56, although increasingly more men are participating in the process.

This is not a new phenomenon; adult children have long cared for aging parents while raising children.  In my own experience, my father’s mother lived with my aunt and her family after her second husband passed away. She was in her 60’s and it was unseemly in our Polish immigrant culture for a woman to live alone.  Also she lived in a small bedroom off the kitchen.  My aunt was in her 40’s with 6 children.  She worked in the family grocery across the street.  Her mother, my grandmother, helped prepare meals for the family and was there to greet children after school.   Then as she aged, the children were available to help care for her, as was my aunt. This was not uncommon in that culture or at that time.  My mother’s parents lived in an upper (small) flat above my Uncle and his family.  My grandparents bought the house with this in mind…kind of like buying a house with a granny unit now.  My uncle worked and my aunt stayed home with the children and provided emergency and supportive care for her in-laws.

The difference in the current day situation is more related to the change in the role of women in society.  More women are working outside of the home at jobs that are not flexible.  Modern schedules do not allow for meeting the needs of family, whether the needs of children or aging parents. Women are dealing with more stress and pressure as they try to juggle various roles.  Employment for many women in the 50’s and 60’s was often seen as supplemental to their husbands’ job and now women participate in careers that provide fulfillment, take years of education and involve career advancement activities that don’t easily mesh with the demands of family.

Currently American culture requires that both adults in the family to work in order to keep up with lifestyle demands.  It will be interesting to see the impact of recent worldwide economic downturns on employment patterns and family needs, but as of now the situation continues and will no doubt increase as the population ages and women delay having children.

These demands result in the primary caregiver feeling squeezed and pulled in different directions.  The importance of caring for children is primary to parents.  As part of the decision to start a family, prospective parents’ review of the commitment is required to raise healthy children.  Time, financial and emotional resources that once went only to the individual or to the couple now will be prioritized to the children.  Young couples don’t often factor in the possibility of caring for aging parents as they delay procreating.  There is a bit of a glow about being young and starting fresh as well as the belief that parents will live forever as they have always lived. Or the hope that they have planned for the future in such a way that eliminates the possibility of them requiring care from their children.  But even with the best plan, the care provided by family is often the preferred situation for all concerned.

It is important for caregivers to seek out support for these tasks, either via individual counseling or group counseling.  The job of caregiver to children and parents can seem overwhelming and endless.  Support and education can make this difficult situation tenable and even rewarding. 

Mary Ann Whalen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and currently facilitating a support group for caregivers at Monarch Therapy on Saturday mornings.  For more information, visit www.MonarchTherapy.com or call (239) 325-9210.



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