The Sandwich Generation

This sandwich is no picnic. It’s a difficult situation to deal with— being “sandwiched” between caring for your kids and caring for your parents (or another elderly family member).

The Pew Research Center found that more than one out of eight Americans cares for a child and a parent at the same time. This stretches parents way beyond what’s normal, healthy, and even possible. Carol Abaya, a national expert on the sandwich generation, says there are three types of sandwich generators:

Traditional sandwich – This is anyone sandwiched between parents needing care and their children. This includes college-age kids when you’re paying for college.

Club sandwich – This is when you’re sandwiched between three generations: either caring for grandparents, parents, and children or caring for parents, children, and grandchildren.

Open-faced sandwich – This is anyone who cares for an elderly family member.

So what exactly constitutes “care”? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these families are either caring for parents and kids under one roof or providing support for a parent in a care facility while their own kids are in college or in school, and are either paying $200 or more a month, and/or providing more than 100 hours of care. This is a tall order. Too tall.

My family is currently experiencing a “traditional sandwich” situation. My father-in-law died in August. He had been caring for my mother-in-law for the past 32 years, after she suffered from traumatic brain injury due to a serious car accident. Currently, my brother-in-law is staying with my mother-in-law while we, as a family, figure out next steps. The options aren’t easy, nor are they clear cut.

The biggest issue is that the American medical system isn’t equipped for dealing with such a large number of elderly people who need care. There aren’t enough care facilities. There aren’t enough geriatricians. In fact, three years ago, the U.S. was 14,000 geriatricians short for dealing with current needs. By 2030, 15,000 more geriatricians will be needed, yet only 300 are being added each year. Thus, the shortage is creating a crisis for families.

The research is clear: 77 percent of caregivers say they can’t work as well because of the stress of caregiving. Many employees who are caught in the sandwich generation are developing health problems because of trying to do heroic efforts to do it all, even though they never feel like they do enough.

So how can we care for our kids, ourselves, and our parents so that everyone wins—and no one loses? Do you think it’s possible? What will it take?

Alex Johnson with Rehema Ellis and Mark Mullen, “A Generation Caught Between Two Others,” MSNBC online and NBC News, February 13, 2007.

Carol Abaya, “The Sandwich Generation: Modern Dilemma of Elder Care,”, November 27, 2009.

The Sandwich Generation

Charles R. Pierret, “The ‘Sandwich Generation’: Women Caring for Parents and Children,” Monthly Labor Review, September 2006, 3-9

Image via Kirinqueen on Flick’r


Great way to talk about a family issue.

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