Meet the Sandwich Generation

by An Post Insurance | Nov 06, 2019

Modern society has given rise to a unique situation for adults in their 40s, 50s and 60’s, that wasn’t really prevalent in previous generations.  One in which they find themselves caring for elderly parents, and their own younger children.  If you find yourself in this position, you are now part of the “Sandwich Generation”.  

Someone who is part of the Sandwich Generation is thought to be “sandwiched” between caring for their aging parents, who may be unable to perform basic day to day tasks, or may be ill, and their own children who may require financial, physical and emotional support, even after they have left home.  A lot of these people will also be trying to juggle this responsibility as well as working in a full-time job.

Hands holding each other

Why is This Happening Now?

The funny thing is, this isn’t only happening now, it has been happening for years and yet the vast majority of people have never heard of it and don’t even realise that they are actually part of it.  ”Sandwich Generation” was originally coined back in 1981 by a social worker named Dorothy Miller and it was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2006.

The term is getting more exposure due to the fact that the number of people seemingly falling within the scope of the term is growing, mostly because women are delaying having children and people in general are living longer. 

Statistics You Can Chew On

A study carried out in Ireland in 2013 by TILDA* (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing), provided some interesting statistics around the subject, with insights into financial costs, hours spent providing care and the types of care required. 

According to the study, women are the main contributor to the Sandwich Generation, but what is surprising is the volume at which they are represented.  Women in the Sandwich Generation account for 31% of ALL community dwelling women aged between the ages of 50 and 69, this is a total of over 140,000 women in Ireland. 

The study notes that women also contribute an average of 12 hours per month to household chores for their non-resident children.  That’s 12 hours where they are shopping and cleaning OUTSIDE their own home for their children that have flown the coop.

Half of all these women provide help to their parents with basic living requirements such as dressing, eating and bathing along with helping out with general chores, transportation and shopping.

A third of these women also look after their grandchildren, for an average of 34 hours per month, and in a lot of cases, still find time to maintain their full-time jobs.  While financially, 9% of sandwiched women would also contribute an average of €2,000 - €3,000 towards support for their parents and children over a 2-year period.

Daughter walking with elderly father in garden

Don't Panic

Being part of this growing group can be hard on the individuals involved, dealing with the stress and frustration can be challenging in itself.  The first step to take, if you feel pressure mounting, is to simply ask for help.  Friends and family might not be willing to help out in the care giving side, but they could be forthcoming in helping on daily chores, such as collecting and picking up the kids from school or collecting laundry items.  One less chore for you to worry about will give you more time to yourself when needed. 

And when that free time does come up, make the most of it.  Even if it is only a short period of time, like a 30 minute break in the hospital, don’t spend it worrying or fretting.  Take the time to stroll in the Hospital grounds, and if they have a nice garden, find a quiet space away from everyone and just switch off from everything.  Play some soothing music on your phone or lose yourself in an uplifting podcast.  If they have a chapel, it can be good for the mind and body to just sit in the silence and meditate, it’s also the perfect place to immerse yourself in a good book!

Your eating habits may also be disrupted so it is important to remember to have something ready that is both filling and nourishing.  Look into easy prep meals that can be thrown together quickly and stored for up to a week.  There are more than just cold salads to be made these days, with some great online resources, like www.simplemost.com, for amazing and simple recipe’s.

And finally, if the situation presents itself for you to take a nap, then take that nap!  Getting ample sleep can be tough in this situation so frequent naps are essential. 

Overall, the main thing is to remember to look after yourself, look for help where you can and if the timing is right, don’t be afraid to laugh.

Father and daughter walking

Where Do We Go From Here

In conclusion, the TILDA report states: 

A key challenge facing public health in Ireland will be the burgeoning ageing population and the increasing demands on the middle generation for both financial and informal care which may lead to an increasing negative impact on health.”

This is something we all need to consider, not just for the future, but right now. 

Ask yourself if you are part of the Sandwich Generation, and if not, do you know somebody who is?  Do they need help and can you provide any assistance to them?  Is there any way we can plan financially, or otherwise, to counter the effects of this situation? 

These are tough questions to an ongoing and increasing situation, with no easy answers, but it is up to all of us to contribute to this as best we can.

 * https://tilda.tcd.ie/publications/reports/pdf/Report_SandwichGeneration.pdf