The Sandwich Generation: Caring for Children and Parents

Posted by Barbara McVicker on July 12, 2017
Are you part of the Sandwich Generation? Most people think of this term as being specific to one particular generation, but it really crosses several generations. You might be in your late thirties or even in your sixties and find yourself “stuck in the middle” of kids, career, and taking care of aging parents.

Caregiving for aging parents is a marathon, not a sprint. Most people underestimate the obligation of caregiving. Many adult children step up to be the primary hands-on caregiver having no idea the time commitment, the physical and emotional exhaustion, or the financial impact involved. “Sandwich generation caregivers” often feel stressed and overwhelmed because they not only have too much to do, but also too many people demanding too much from them.

In many ways, a caregiver becomes the CEO of a very small assisted living facility… juggling multiple health care providers, appointments, services and support staff, hiring and directing care workers, providing transportation and food, managing insurance bills, and administering medications— while still trying to be the child. Chronic care maintenance is very complicated, and family caregivers don’t have the training for all these tasks and issues.

So you think you can burn the candle at both ends---do it ALL! That might work for several months, but you could be caring for your parents almost as long as you spent raising your kids. At a recent workplace event, the presenter asked the audience what was the most surprising aspect of caregiving.  One man raised his hand and said “The time!” Someone else exclaimed that it was the financial support. “Sandwich Generation caregivers” are stuck between tuition for kids, funding their own retirement, and providing financial support for their parents.

“Sandwich caregivers” often feel alone, isolated, and without support from family. Only 10 percent of primary caregivers feel that the responsibility of caregiving is equally distributed within the family, according to the AARP/Met Life Mature Market Survey. Even happy families can become dysfunctional when presented with the tasks of caregiving.

Being a caregiver can be one of the most rewarding jobs, but also one of the hardest. If you are unprepared and struggling to understand all the caregiving issues involved, it can definitely be one of the most mentally and physically draining jobs. Many times, the adult child caregiver is referred to as the “hidden patient.”

Most of the time people focus on the patient and not the caregiver. The adult child caregiver is the lynchpin in keeping Mom and Dad safe and well. Think about the flight attendant who stands at the front of the crowded airplane and addresses everyone, “Remember to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others around you.” This does not seem like something one would do in a crisis, but it really is the right action to take. If you are not breathing, how can you take care of others? I might also add, “Buckle up. You are in for a bumpy ride!” Remember to take care of yourself…walk, read, socialize, breath, and seek support.

Barbara McVicker is an author, national speaker, and host of PBS-TV special Stuck in the Middle: caring for Mom and Dad. For more sandwich generation resources visit