Family, Kids & Relationships

Are you part of the sandwich generation? Here’s how to cope

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The “sandwich generation” refers to parents who are caring for their kids as well as aging relatives at the same time. Almost a quarter of U.S. adults and more than half of those in their 40s are in this situation, according to Pew Research Center data. If that’s you, you’ll understand the feeling of being “sandwiched” in the middle of the older and younger generations, both of whom need your support.

Being part of the sandwich generation comes with unique challenges. In a University of Michigan psychiatry study, caregivers taking care of at least one older adult and at least one child at the same time were twice as likely to experience financial difficulty and also more likely to report substantial emotional difficulty compared to caregivers who only cared for older adult(s).

In short: It’s double the stress, and your own needs frequently get pushed to the side. To help sandwich generation parents deal with the stress and complications of caring for two different age groups simultaneously, here are some survival tips.

Look for financial support

If you’re caring for an older adult at home, you might have access to government funds or programs specifically for family caregivers. Be sure to check this state-by-state resource guide for caregivers. Some state programs allow family caregivers to get paid for caring for relatives with disabilities as well.

In general, be honest with your relatives about your financial situation and costs of care so that you can find practical support as well as set boundaries about what you can and can’t afford. You can also bring a relative with you to talk to a financial planner and estate planning attorney, so that you can get professional assistance with managing finances amidst your changing family circumstances.

Seek out support groups

If you’re struggling in your sandwich generation caregiver role, you’re definitely not alone. Sometimes just having others to talk to who are in a similar situation can help ease your stress and find creative solutions to some of your problems.

Seek out a group specifically for caregivers to connect over the unique challenges they face. Start your search here:

  • Family Caregiver Alliance’s support groups
  • Caregiver Action Network’s online community
  • These other organizations that host online and in-person support groups
  • Contact your state’s council on aging for information about local support groups

Carve out time for self-care

Self-care might sound impossible if you’re already stretched thin caring for others. But self-care doesn’t have to be time consuming. It could look like:

  • Getting out for a 20-minute walk every day
  • Meeting a friend once a month for coffee or yoga
  • Hopping on the phone with a friend or relative, or listening to your favorite music or podcast, while you do mundane tasks like laundry or dishes
  • Prepping a few favorite healthy snacks or lunches each Sunday so that you’ll have something to fuel you during the week
  • Listening to a meditation or relaxation video at the end of a stressful day

When you take care of your own body and mind, you’ll have more energy to care for your kids and older relatives. You’ll even find yourself handling your stress and emotions better if your own needs have been met.

Get to know your own stress triggers

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to feel angry, resentful, or stressed, especially if you’re a member of the sandwich generation. The more you understand what’s making you so stressed, the better you’ll be able to deal with it. Notice the details of what sets you off, and start a journal to jot down notes at the end of the day or during downtime.

Share these realizations with friends or relatives so they can understand what you’re going through and offer support where needed. Try some of these emotional coping hacks for dealing with stress in the moment. And if you feel like you’ve tried it all and are still struggling emotionally, seek out support from a therapist (many services offer flexible scheduling and online appointments).

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.