With more than 12 million elderly individuals requiring long term care and millennials taking longer to land on their feet economically, many adults increasingly find themselves as members of the Sandwich Generation. The Sandwich Generation refers to middle-aged adults who care for their parents and children at the same time. This care may be physical, emotional or financial. Gregory Ricks, a financial advisor and owner of Gregory Ricks & Associates, said much of this work will fall on women. According to Gregory, the average caregiver is a 46-year-old female and 75 percent of home care providers are unpaid women. About half of women providing care will have to quit their jobs or take a leave of absence to fulfill their roles as caregiver. And it’s not just their jobs; women will spend about 50 percent more of their time than men providing care.
Sociologists have long discussed how women’s role in the home often extends beyond housework and meal preparation. For example, sociologist Micaela di Leonardo, professor of anthropology, gender studies and performance studies at Northwestern University, found that women often feel required to, and do, maintain their family’s kin network. Thus, women often enjoy, but also feel responsible for maintaining relationships between family members. Additionally, family scholars note that women often engage in emotion work. Emotion work refers to actions that provide moral support or maintain bonds of affection helping to keep people emotionally happy. As such, it comes as no surprise that women might be more engaged in providing care for their children and their elderly loved ones.
Nadia Haik and Michele Wink shared the challenges and rewards of caring for one’s parent or in-laws while caring for kids. Nadia, a JLNO Sustainer, cared for her in-laws while raising young children. Michele cares for her parents intermittently while also supporting her two sons.
Nadia said that her husband primarily cared for his parents allowing them to “divide and conquer” to ensure the children were cared for when he was away from home. She noted that it’s challenging because family members can’t predict what is going to happen and constantly have to adjust plans for care.
Michele said, “Communication is a challenge. If there’s hearing loss or any kind of dementia there can be confusion and the lack of communication can make it difficult to get things done.” In order to combat challenges Nadia recommends having a solid plan even if it’s a difficult conversation. She said, “Everyone has to figure out his or her plan. What are your goals?” Confirm the goal with your parents or children. Do your parents want to be in a retirement home? Do they want to stay in their own home? Discuss these issues and make sure everyone is clear on their wishes.
Beyond the emotional and physical challenges there are financial ones as well. Gregory advocates seeking out financial guidance and doing it early on. Ask yourself do I need to work longer? Do I need to adjust how much financially I provide to others? As such, communication and continually rerouted plans can create challenges but a solid overall plan can help overcome challenges.
Nadia and Michele feel that the rewards were far greater than any challenge they had incurred. Michele said, “The first thing that comes to mind for me is that you’ve had the opportunity to give back to the people that gave so much to you, with real hands on care. You’ve been able to take care of people who took care of you for so long.”
Nadia said it helped teach her children what it meant to be a member of a family. She explained, “For our children it was really showing them and demonstrating this is part of loving your grandparents.” In physically and emotionally caring for children and parents, individuals feel the love involved in being a member of a family.
Both women emphasized that remembering to care for yourself is important, especially in situations like these. Nadia said, “Care enough about yourself to give yourself breaks to allow the people in your support system to help you out…I think that as women particularly — women in the League who are strong, independent women, who can multi-task like nobody’s business — I think it’s hard to accept help.”
Similarly, Michele said, “Take time to take care of yourself and get decent rest. You really will run yourself into the ground, which then you’re of no use to anybody.” She also recommended actively asking others for help.
What should you do if you have a friend who is currently a member of the Sandwich Generation? Nadia recommends being more direct about how you can help rather than saying “Call me if you need help.” She notes that the best help she received was people being direct – offering to pick kids up from school or to go grocery shopping for a friend.
Researchers estimate that by 2030, 61 million Baby Boomers will be elderly and in need of some form of care. Concurrently, social scientists predict, given the current economic and social conditions, that the prolonged transition from adolescence to adulthood requiring parental help will not dissipate. As such, it is unlikely that caring for both children and parents simultaneously will soon be a bygone social phenomenon.
Many individuals who provide care for both are sure to feel emotionally or economically stressed at some point in their caregiving. Fortunately, individuals who are prepared and remember to take care of themselves also report the joys and blessings that come with providing care for others.
Information provided by: Gregory Ricks & Associates