The Sandwich Generation is a generation of people (mostly women) who care for their aging parents while also raising their own children. Carol Abaya, who coined the phrase sandwich generation, describes three types of people who fit into the sandwich generation. The Traditional type, who are those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and their own children; the Club Sandwich type, which are those in their 50s or 60s, sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren; or those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents; and lastly the Open Faced type, which is anyone else involved in the care of an elder. Abaya believes that as more baby boomers become both sandwich generationers and seniors, the need to understand the dynamics of aging and the family relationships of elders increases dramatically. According to recent statistics, the number of Americans aged 65 and over will double over the next 15 to 20 yeas, to over 70 million elderly adults, most from the baby boomer generation. While the boomers are aging, their children are fewer in number, which means there are less younger people to care for the aging population. But in spite of this, nearly 10 million boomers are now raising kids or supporting an adult child while giving a financial or physical helping hand to an aging parent. About 1 out of every 7 American women between the ages of 40 and 60 is raising a child and also caring for an aging parent.
Even though a parent may have several children, many have moved far away from home and their only way of “caring” for their parent(s) may be sending a little money now and then and gifts on special occasions. Though several siblings may be involved in the decision making process of caring for an aging parent, there is usually only one adult child who is willing or able to do most of the actual caring for their parent(s). I was officially inducted into the sandwich generation about three years ago when my father died unexpectedly of a skin eating bacteria disease and my mother pretty much shut down with grief and depression. One of my brothers lives across the country and mostly only contributes financially to her care, the other brother is physically incapable of helping much but helps out financially somewhat, and my sister works full time as a teacher, so that pretty much only leaves me. I still have two children at home to raise, the youngest being nine and the older one being twelve, and to top it all off, my first two granddaughters were born this year and I really want to spend some time with them. As pushed as I am for time, I’ll make time for those little sweet hearts any day. But between homeschooling my two youngest children, caring for my two grandbabies on occasion, and taking care of my mother’s needs, I do my gardening, household chores, and try to get some writing done. If I had a job outside of the home I’m not sure what hours I would work and how I would squeeze them in to my days. Needless to say I’m feeling a little sandwiched right now, right between two generations of people who need me, with little time left for meeting my own needs.
American families, like mine, provide almost all the in-home long term care services for their elderly family members. This may include assistance with activities of daily living (ADL’s), medical supervision and coordination of medical services, administration of medications, and assistance with financial, legal, emotional and spiritual concerns. Some estimates show that nearly two-thirds of the women of the baby boomer generation will be taking care of an elderly parent in the next ten years or so. The average woman spends almost 20 years raising their own children and nearly another 20 years helping aging parents, often working full or part time while doing it. In the United States, July, the Sandwich Generation Month, is a month of awareness to commemorate and celebrate these dedicated, patient, and caring women and others of the Sandwich Generation, those caring for their own children as well as their aging parents. During the month of July events are held throughout the United States in annual commemoration of the national observation of the Sandwich Generation Month. This is a great time to recognize those who are caregivers in your own family, and if you are the caregiver in your family to give yourself a pat on the back for all you do.
With long term care services needed for many aging parents, families must decide how that care will best be provided. Many will have to choose between putting their parent(s) in a nursing home, getting in-home help for their parent(s), or caring for their parent(s) themselves. If they decide to care for the parent(s) themselves, they will have to make decisions about whether to have the parent move in with them, or whether the parent(s) are sufficiently able to care for themselves with frequent visits from the children. Although there are conflicting views on whether or not to have an elderly parent move in the same household due to marital stresses, this can be an option for sandwich generationers. One family I know built a nice apartment for their dad by closing in the garage, which has him close by, but not actually sharing the same space. In my own family, I live next door to my mother, which makes it easy for us to check on her, while allowing us each our own space. There may come a time when we have to do something different, as she has fallen twice this year, but for now, this is working for us. Many people have had their parents move in with them and the family members seem to have adjusted well to the situation. Biblically speaking, this was standard practice for centuries, with the elderly both caring for youngsters and being cared for by their adult children, as in the story of Ruth and Naomi. With good communication and personal boundaries defined, having several generations under one roof can give a family a better sense of well-being, provide a loving and memorable experience for younger children, give teenagers more responsibilities and help them in moving on to adulthood, and may ease the burden of chores with an extra set of helping hands. Grandparents should be allowed to participate in family responsibilities and be expected to contribute to the overall well-being of the family. Although having a multi-generational family under one roof can be trying physically, emotionally, and financially, it can be beneficial as well.
If you are unexpectedly finding yourself, like I was, on the path to becoming a sandwich generationer, some things you will need to know are the legal and financial ramifications of caring for an aging parent. Make sure all legal documents are in place before you actually need them, including a durable power of attorney, which allows a person to designate someone else to make decisions if the person becomes disabled. If an emergency happens, you’ll need legal authority to act quickly for your parent’s best interest. Make sure your parent(s) have a durable power of attorney authorizing someone to make financial decisions on their behalf; a durable power of attorney for health care (or a healthcare proxy) authorizing someone to make medical decisions; and a living will outlining their wishes if life-sustaining medical care is needed. When my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly, the medical issues were unresolved and moral and religious standards were not agreed upon, so to keep problems and disagreements from rising between siblings, these should be decided and discussed before the need arises.
As more people have longer life expectancies and as family members are moving across the country, others outside the immediately family are becoming involved in some way or another, in caring for families’ loved ones. Some sources for further information are eldercare.gov, which links you to the agency on aging closest to your parents’ home, which in turn, directs you to many local senior services, the Caregiver Resource Room on the net for links to many caregiver tip sheets, including two focusing on finances, and the National Council on Aging at benefitscheckup.org to find out which federal, state and local benefits your parents qualify for. There are many programs out there, including those providing assistance with health-care and utility costs, as well as property tax relief of which many are available to middle-class families. Then check govbenefits.gov for eligibility of the programs you may need to help care for your parent(s). Lastly check medicare.gov for those who qualify for Medicare. These resources and others can be invaluable to those moving up the path to the sandwich generation. Finding the help you need for caring for your loved one will help you tremendously as you learn to be a caregiver, whether you delegate those responsibilities to others or do it yourself. There is no shame in seeking help when help is needed, for women who are overworked already and have the added burden of caring for a parent. Caring for a parent should not be a burden, but a joy, so get the help you need.
Becoming a Proverbs 31 Woman in One Month
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