The “Sandwich Generation” is one of those terms that shows up and gains traction because it perfectly captures the squeeze that millions of Americans face every day.
First of all, what is the sandwich generation? When I first heard it, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be a part of a group that sounded like something you grab on the “go”, something messy, like fast food in the car.
In fact, I often call it the “Panini Generation” because I feel squeezed AND pressed!
And now, well, I’ve accepted that life does get messy, you have to move fast, you get pressed, you’re under stress…and sometimes…we all feel squeezed by our commitments, even those that bring us joy.
Over HALF of middle-aged adults are taking care of children AND aging parents at the same time. We’re literally sandwiched in between the needs of multiple generations, providing emotional, physical and financial support for others. You may not identify as a “caregiver” but you ARE.
The height of the squeeze usually hits in the 40s- 60s. But don’t rule out millennials feeling the pressure—remember that millennials today are aged 23-38. 38! That’s solidly in the “approaching middle age” category. They’re busy “adulting,” perhaps with children of their own, busy careers and parents–even grandparents—for whom they are caregiving.
So where does this leave us sandwiches? Often exhausted from the pressure to succeed, and dealing with chronic stress. We know we have to plan for the future but how do you prioritize your health, your family, your job and also your finances?
The Sandwich Generation is growing as people live longer, and hopefully, healthier lives. Today, a person may have six or seven generations of family living at the same time. This puts even more of us in the category of balancing multiple priorities and trying to be all things to all people.
Remember that we’re also working longer as life spans extend—The Economist calls it the “graying workforce.” This is significant for employers attempting to stay on top of benefits offerings and sustaining a multigenerational workforce.
SO HOW DO WE COPE?
Articles and evidence-based research papers all say the same thing—reduce your stress, take time for yourself, breathe deeply, meditate, get good sleep, spend time with friends, take long walks, do yoga. All excellent suggestions—but how? I often get frustrated by this good advice when it’s not always practical.
I have three pieces of advice to offer, from personal experience:
- Do all of the above activities, if you can and when you can.
- Be acutely aware of your stress levels and what you can manage within a day. Watch it closely and determine for yourself a way to consistently evaluate your state of mind. Ask a friend to help you stay accountable to yourself.
- The best advice I have to offer, and also to take for myself—is that there is a limit to what you can be an expert at. I get as much help as I can. I have a financial advisor. I hire a math tutor for my kids. I’m pretty good at math, but my child actually responds better to a professional. I can accept that! Although I can do it myself, I have hired support to manage health needs within my own family. Why do I do this? Because I know the value of my time and I am also a full-time working mother. And I don’t want to let anything fall through the cracks just because I can’t do it myself.
Being a part of the “Sandwich Generation” doesn’t have to be a negative. I draw strength from my sense of humor and my faith Every. Single. Day. It’s a blessing to have a full life—and it keeps me filled with purpose. However, on my journey I’ve learned to ask for, and receive, support in so many ways…so I can focus on what matters.