The Sandwich Generation

February 16, 2021

A father responsible for shuttling his teenage daughter to dance class at 3pm and making sure his aging mother makes it to her doctor appointment at 3:30pm. A mother working over-time to ensure she can meet the financial needs of her growing family that includes twin toddlers and her 70-year-old father-in-law. Do these scenarios sound familiar? You may have friends who have experienced this type of family life, or you may be in the thick of it yourself. The mother and father featured in these scenarios are part of The Sandwich Generation, a generation of adults caring for both children and aging adults at the same time.

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2012, 15% of adults aged 40-59 were providing financial support to both a child and parent aged 65+. As the many adults who comprise the Sandwich Generation would likely tell you, support doesn’t just come in the form of finances — but in physical and emotional care as well. Let’s dive into the different ways support from the Sandwich Generation may manifest itself.

Financial Support

The financial aspect of supporting an aging loved one and young children can’t be ignored. In America, the average cost of raising a child to the age of 17 was $233,610 in 2020. When you add an aging loved one who may not have a source of income to that, your costs increase — many times in unexpected ways. Some families move into a larger house so their loved ones can have their own space. One parent may quit their own job to focus on caring for their family full-time. For many families, the financial aspect is well worth it. And the simple fact is, those families may be better equipped to handle the financial burden than others.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some families struggle to find the extra room in their budget as expenses increase. In some cases, members of the Sandwich Generation are postponing their own retirements due to the financial stress of caring for two generations.

No matter where you fall on that spectrum, it’s an important factor to plan for if you’re considering taking on the responsibility of caregiver or financial supporter of your loved one. If you’re considering becoming a loved one’s caretaker in the future, experts recommend starting the conversation about finances now so that you’re prepared when the time comes.

Physical Support

In many cases where an aging adult needs regular hands-on care, family members step in to provide that care and support. Some may have the needed experience to provide this care, some may be learning as they go. The stress of that learning curve can’t be denied. It’s difficult to watch someone you love lose the physical capabilities they once had, especially when compounded with the everyday stresses of raising a family.

The level of physical support also depends heavily on the health of the aging adult. Some adults may need someone to drive them to the doctor, where other adults may need hands-on help with daily activities like dressing or bathing, or even care for advanced conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Going into caring for an aging loved one, have an honest conversation with yourself and your family about what level of care you’re equipped to provide.

Emotional Support

The aging process brings up questions of spirituality, love, and loss. These are big feelings, and your loved one may need a steady hand to help navigate them. For many in the Sandwich Generation, they become the emotional support for their loved ones, helping them cope as their life changes. This, on top of serving as the emotional support for children ranging from toddlers to teenagers, can leave little time for these adults to care for their own mental health or their other relationships. In a survey from the New York Times, 25 percent of respondents who are caretakers for aging loved ones said they had made sacrifices in their romantic relationships.

If you’re caring for a loved one — or considering it — take the steps now to care for your own mental health and to understand the questions that might come up as your loved one ages. Our blog is a wealth of information on aging and may answer questions or give you ideas about how best to care for your loved one.

If you’re currently part of the Sandwich Generation, know that there is support for you. If you think you may become a financial, physical, or emotional supporter for a loved one in the future, we hope this helps you as you prepare for that journey.

Find more information about caring for aging loved ones on our blog: